Ten years ago American civil liberties took a giant step back with the authorization of the Patriot Act.† The law, still in effect today, dramatically expanded the police powers exercised on average citizens, circumventing traditional constitutional protections.
Former U.S. Senator Russ Feingold, was the only Senate vote against authorization of the Patriot Act and offered this statement to mark the anniversary:
“Ten years ago today, President Bush signed the Patriot Act into law, a blatant power-grab that gave unprecedented, unchecked power to the government to arrest, detain, and spy on our nationís citizens with little or no judicial oversight. Sadly, this law still results in the unjust intrusion and harassment of too many Americans. So now, on the tenth anniversary of the enactment of the Patriot Act, we must redouble our efforts to rein in the abuses of power that law still allows, and we must all work to honor and restore our common heritage of basic rights. ”
The legacy of the Patriot Act will be hard to shake. Law enforcement has grown accustomed to searches without probable cause, to warrantless wiretaps, and to hiding behind the “state secrets” doctrine. Once civil liberties erode, they are almost always impossible to get back.
Thankfully the Patriot Act requires re-authorization, which means the grant of power can be taken away. But after ten years, the ability to do so only becomes more difficult. Hopefully, for the sake of our constitutional democracy, it is not an impossibility.
Photo from D.C. Attny via flickr.