In the wake of 9/11, Congress took advantage of a fearful public and a rare moment of national unity to pass the Uniting and Strengthening America by Providing Appropriate Tools Required to Intercept and Obstruct Terrorism Act, or USA PATRIOT Act. The legislation gave unprecedented and unchecked power to the president and cavalierly suspended many of the constitutional rights of U.S. citizens.
Warrantless wiretaps, email interceptions, and secret, warrantless seizure of personal records and property are the first violations that come to mind. That Congress is likely today to extend this law before it “sunsets” at midnight is sickening. We have a different president, a different party in control of the House. Osama bin Laden is dead. Al Qaeda has been pushed from one country to another and is widely dispersed. The shock of 9/11 has passed and there have been no more big attacks on American soil.
It’s way past time for cooler heads to prevail. While there might be reason to extend the “Lone Wolf” Amendment, the routine violation of the rights of U.S. citizens should cease, and the presidency should be returned to its intended place in the balance of powers.
But when has anyone or any institution in a position of great power ever willingly given up that power?