Thursday, February 17, 2011

Indecent Proposal?

I don't know that I would blog about this normally but with all the unrest in the Middle East and Africa, I don't know that this huge piece of legislation got enough attention, so I am doing my small part to create consideration and discussion.
Yesterday, the Senate voted to extend the Patriot Act for ninety days to give the House and Senate a chance to come to agreement or compromise regarding the future. The House had already voted to extend the act until December. The White House also supports extension of the act.  (reference: BBC) Items covered in the act include: extension of wiretaps, access to business records, and surveillance of terror suspects, among other things.
I understand why this bill came into existence following the September 11th attacks and I can understand why it had so many supporters (and opponents). I had just exited the military less than a month prior to 9-11-01 and was still working at a military hospital. David was serving on active duty in intelligence at the time. There were definite concerns about further imminent attacks on American soil. There was a perceived if not real threat with significant potential consequences. I had questions and concerns when it became law in October 2001 and almost 10 years after the it's creation, I still have to ask some questions when it comes to the Patriot Act. I won't answer these questions for you, I just pose them here as something to be considered:

1. Does its provisions compromise the constitutional rights of Americans? 
2. What freedoms, if any, should Americans be willing to trade in the name of intelligence gathering?
3. If/When the act is in place (including it's standing since 2001) should it's provisions be limited by time (called 'sunsets'), for example, should it's powers be considered a necessary requirement for 12, 24, or 36 months following an attack on American soil-- with the ability to reinstate the act following new attacks?   ---this is how the act was originally designed and each time a sunset was reached, it's measures were extended or made 'permanent.'
4. What results have we actually achieved thru the Patriot Act? (Realistically and maybe necessarily, we will never have an accurate answer to this question, it's more rhetorical in nature.)
5. Is loss of dues process a worthwhile trade for gathering intelligence here in the US even if that intelligence stops an attack? --since activity related to use of the Patriot Act is usually protected information, for reasons of National Security, when an error is made under the act (a person under surveillance, detained, or resources seized in error), is recompense ever made to those affected?

After asking all these questions, I have to caveat that oversees intelligence collection is a different ball game; I do not question the government's (Intelligence agencies and Dept. of Defense) need to collect intelligence oversees. Also, I don't think that non-citizens are necessarily entitled to the same rights against surveillance that US citizens are entitled here in the US.
The conclusion I come to regarding the Patriot Act is that it is a slippery slope. It feels a little like a movie I saw long ago called Indecent Proposal. Maybe you've seen it. It's about a couple in need of money to fulfill a dream and avoid financial ruin. They go to Vegas and gamble what they have in search of the needed funds. They lose their money and are approached by a millionaire who offers $1million dollars for a night with the wife. The couple agrees to this 'deal' and signs a contract because this would solve their financial problems.
They learn the hard way that life is complicated. Following that night, they aren't just able to forget about their compromised marriage and how they managed to get the money.... the sacrifice looked reasonable in the beginning. They justified their choice, but in the end, they had given up something that they couldn't just forget about and couldn't be replaced. This couple nearly destroys themselves in the process.
I am concerned that the price of the Patriot Act is just too great.
Is congress accepting an indecent proposal on our behalf?

**Please note: Although this blog downloads to 2 Facebook accounts and a Twitter account. It is the sole opinion and commentary of Sharon R. Simon. This blog is not the work or opinion of David E. Simon or his employer, Mission Essential Personnel.

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