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Mortality of the Patriot Act
“We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness. That to secure these rights, Governments are instituted among Men, deriving their just powers from the consent of the governed.” ~ Thomas Jefferson's Declaration of Independence
In the wake of the September 11, 2001 attacks, the U.S. government was desperate to react. Concerns over national security and breaches in federal intelligence came into question, which quickly lead to the passing of the Patriot Act. Today, nearly ten years after that dreadful event, some Americans believe the Patriot Act violates their civil liberties as citizens of the United States. Conversely, there are supporters who believe the government should have unlimited access over people’s privacy for the greater good of the country. Therefore, the question arises, is it morally valid to suspend the individual civil liberties of the whole in order to protect the nation’s security?
Pro Patriot Act
There are many advantages for expanding governmental surveillance and investigative powers. For instance, there’s the possibility of gaining invaluable information for future attacks, and also the potential for targeting terrorists who may be responsible for such attacks. According to the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU), “The FBI does not have to demonstrate probable cause, only declare it has “reasonable grounds” to suspect that library records may be relevant to an investigation.”
Supporters of such extreme measures believe in national security over privacy. They would much rather see a terrorist behind bars than protect their personal phone calls or bank accounts. Another claim is that the government wouldn’t investigate ordinary citizens, meaning that the law is exclusive to suspected criminals.
Question: Do these claims qualify as being morally right?
From the supporter’s perspective the answer is yes. The government’s involvement is warranted in order to establish justice and ensure domestic tranquility (Department of Justice).
Pro Civil Liberties
For those who oppose the Patriot Act, the price of security comes at a large cost. The act represents an invasion of privacy and attacks the 4th Amendment of the Bill of Rights.
The 4th Amendment states, “The right of the people to be secure in their persons, houses, papers, and effects, against unreasonable searches and seizures, shall not be violated; and no Warrants shall issue but upon probable cause, supported by Oath or affirmation, and particularly describing the place to be searched, and the persons or things to be seized.”
Clearly, the Patriot Act is in direct contrast to the Amendment, attacking certain unalienable rights as citizens of the United States. The Bill of Rights is purposely set up against such hypocrisy so that the government may not have control over one’s ‘god’ given rights. In fact, it is morally wrong for a governing power to breach a citizen’s civil liberties.
Counter Argument against Patriot Act Supporters
Supporters of the Patriot Act claim that government’s increased involvement is necessary in order to protect national security. However, there is nothing that supports such a bold statement. Everything is subject to interpretation and speculation. Since we, as citizens of the United States, do not have access to government records, there is no way for the “ordinary” citizen to determine if the Patriot Act prevents any terrorist attacks. Furthermore, the belief that it is morally right for the government to hinder a man’s privacy for the greater good of the country is absolute blasphemy.
In order to be free, people need assurance that they are free from everything, including persecution, tyranny, and privacy. Without such liberties, then how can anyone say that they are free? Where do you draw the line?
Perhaps the government should infringe on other civil liberties as well. There are situations where denying one’s right to vote or denying the right to print would potentially help protect national security. For instance, what if a terrorist became a citizen of the United States? And that terrorist votes on a particular bill or candidate that supports a terrorist cause. Would it not be advantageous to prevent that vote?
The answer is no. Absolute freedom trumps any scenario and to hinder or butcher those rights violates our constitutional right as citizens of the United States.
In conclusion, it is morally wrong to suspend and circumvent civil liberties for the greater good. No doubt, the September 11 attacks was a devastating event in American history. In order to protect national security the government is compelled to act. Although the Patriot Act enables possible leads and prospects for future terrorist attacks on the United States, it violates the very foundations from which this country was founded upon. In a “free” society, the government cannot trample on a citizen’s rights for any reason even it is for the greater good.