Concern about the loss of personal freedom is not a partisan issue, which is why it's gratifying to see a loose coalition of liberal and conservative groups uniting to stop another aggressive move by the Bush Administration to usurp constitutional rights.
Advocates from both left and right are rightfully suspicious of “Son of Patriot,” Capitol Hill's nickname for the successor to the misleadingly named U.S.A. Patriot Act, hurriedly passed by Congress in the wake of the 9/11 terrorist attacks.
The Patriot Act greatly expanded government powers to spy on and detain individuals under the guise of fighting terrorism. Nearly two years later, there is no consensus in Washington on whether the measure has worked.
The Justice Department, wrapped in a shroud of secrecy under Attorney General John Ashcroft, won't even disclose in any detail how the law is being enforced. But librarians across the country now routinely shred lending records rather than open the reading habits of citizens to government snoops.
Legislation now being refined by the Justice Department would expand these powers to a whole new level, with secret arrests and the stripping of citizenship from persons deemed to have provided “material support” to government designated terrorist groups.
The so-called “Son of Patriot” has aroused fear across the political spectrum that the measure goes too far and would unacceptably diminish the personal freedom Americans enjoy.
The concern has only mounted since Sen. Orrin Hatch (R., Utah), chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee and the administration's point man, indicated he wants to make permanent the mostly temporary aspects of the first Patriot Act, which are supposed to expire in 2005.
“Everyone is concerned with protecting our people and our society and our homeland,” says David Keene, chairman of the American Conservative Union. “But everyone should be equally concerned at the potential costs to our society and its very nature if we adopt measures that in retrospect would be viewed as unwise.”
Bob Barr, former ultra right-wing congressman from Georgia, is so concerned that he has signed on as a consultant to the American Civil Liberties Union in its effort to sidetrack “Son of Patriot.”
Both liberals and conservatives agree that Americans have lost some civil liberties already, and the administration is prepared to sweep others away in the name of national security. Trouble is, almost no one feels safer and Americans are increasingly uneasy about putting Big Brother on a longer leash.