The Unpatriotic Act: ten years later

Stephen Rohde writes: The USA Patriot Act became law ten years ago today. Bearing the awkward name, Uniting and Strengthening America by Providing Appropriate Tools Required to Intercept and Obstruct Terrorism Act, it passed the US Senate by an overwhelming vote of 96-1, with only Sen. Russ Feingold (D-Wisconsin) in dissent, voicing deep concerns about the impact the new law would have on civil liberties and privacy rights.

During the debate over the Patriot Act, Senator Feingold observed that the “founders who wrote our Constitution and Bill of Rights exercised that vigilance even though they had recently fought and won the Revolutionary War. They did not live in comfortable and easy times of hypothetical enemies. They wrote a Constitution of limited powers and an explicit Bill of Rights to protect liberty in times of war, as well as in times of peace.”

He traced the dark periods in our nation’s history when civil liberties took a back seat to what appeared at the time to be the legitimate exigencies of war, including the Alien and Sedition Acts, the suspension of habeas corpus during the Civil War, the internment of Japanese-Americans, German-Americans, and Italian-Americans during World War II, the blacklisting of alleged communist sympathizers during the McCarthy era, and the surveillance and harassment of antiwar protesters, including Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., during the Vietnam War.

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