HSM 311: Ethics of Homeland Security
The USA PATRIOT Act Justification of Survaillence
May 9, 2011
The Uniting and Strengthening America by Providing Appropriate Tools Required to Intercept and Obstruct Terrorism Act, better known as the USA PATRIOT Act, or simply the PATRIOT Act was introduced on October 24, 2001, only 45 days after the devastating terrorists attacks of 9/11. It passed nearly unanimously, with only one person total in both the House or Representatives and the Senate voting against it. This law has many aspects, but perhaps the most controversial is the authorization of surveillance procedures, and the legitimacy of these provisions in regards to the Fourth Amendment of the United States Constitution. The following is an examination of the moral and homeland security implications this Act has on the American people and the American Constitution. To better understand the Fourth Amendment, we must look at its historical origins. While still under British rule, the colonists were subjected to general warrants and “writs of assist” which gave the government blanket power to search unspecified people and property st their own discretion. This allowed the government (at the time, the King of England) to stifle the press, quell political change, and generally harass those that had differing and unpopular opinions politically and socially. This was the reason that the Fourth Amendment was put into the Constitution, because citizens should not be searched when unless there is probability and due cause. This is also why the First Amendment is so important, because if the freedom of speech and expression is not honored, having a different opinion could be deemed "probable cause". As the law stands, US citizens have a right to feel and speech differently from the "normal" population without fear of being prosecuted for their beliefs. (German, ACLU 2011; The US Constitution online) Some argue that civil liberties can and should be restrained during a crisis, especially in a time of war, but if citizens are entitled to certain rights and privileges during peace, are they not just as entitled to these rights in a time of war, when they are being asked to sacrifice, fight, and even die to protect these freedoms? Robert La Follette , a Congressman from Wisconsin, thought so, stating that, “Rather in time of war the citizen must be more alert to the preservation of his right to control his government. He must be watchful of the encroachment of the military upon the civil power.” (La Follette, 1917) While he agrees that some liberties must be relinquished temporarily for the common good when times call for it, he warns the citizen to beware of these procedures which excused on the plea of necessity in war time, become the fixed rule when the necessity has passed and normal conditions have been restored.” Though the PATRIOT Act has “sunset dates” when the laws are no longer in effect, the ramifications of these laws will undoubtedly have a long-lasting effect on the American public, both judicially and morally. (Sensenbrenner, 2001 Library of Congress, US Dept of Justice, 2001) The United States Constitution was written to secure several things, among them common defense and the "Blessings of Liberty" (usconstitution.net, 2011). The designers of the constitution were so concerned with freedom that the word "liberty" was capitalized. The Fourth Amendment definitely grants the right to privacy, though not in so many words. There is also not a question that since the 9/11 attacks there have been more searches and seizures, more invasion into our property, and expansion of the government's rights to do so. To determine the morality of these developments, the first question is whether this right to privacy is a natural law that has been formally acknowledged by man or man-made law. Hugo Grotius, the father of international law, explained that all laws fall into these two categories. Laws of nature are, as the name implies,...
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