By John W. Whitehead
Of course, there is no doubt that if we lived in a police state, it would be easier to catch terrorists. If we lived in a country that allowed the police to search your home at any time for any reason; if we lived in a country that allowed the government to open your mail, eavesdrop on your phone conversations, or intercept your email communications; if we lived in a country that allowed the government to hold people in jail indefinitely based on what they write or think, or based on mere suspicion that they are up to no good, then the government would no doubt discover and arrest more terrorists. But that probably would not be a country in which we would want to live. And that would not be a country for which we could, in good conscience, ask our young people to fight and die. In short, that would not be America.–Senator Russ Feingold (D-WI), voicing his concerns over Congress’ passage of the USA Patriot Act (Oct. 25, 2001)
[. . .] From the start, Feingold warned that the massive 342-page piece of legislation would open the door to graver dangers than terrorism–namely, America becoming a police state. He was right.
The Patriot Act drove a stake through the heart of the Bill of Rights, violating at least six of the ten original amendments–the First, Fourth, Fifth, Sixth, Seventh and Eighth Amendments–and possibly the Thirteenth and Fourteenth Amendments, as well. The Patriot Act also redefined terrorism so broadly that many non-terrorist political activities such as protest marches, demonstrations and civil disobedience were considered potential terrorist acts, thereby rendering anyone desiring to engage in protected First Amendment expressive activities as suspects of the surveillance state.
he Patriot Act justified broader domestic surveillance, the logic being that if government agents knew more about each American, they could distinguish the terrorists from law-abiding citizens–no doubt an earnest impulse shared by small-town police and federal agents alike. According to Washington Post reporter Robert O Harrow, Jr., this was a fantasy that had been brewing in the law enforcement world for a long time. And 9/11 provided the government with the perfect excuse for conducting far-reaching surveillance and collecting mountains of information on even the most law-abiding citizen.