Civil liberties not endangered in State of Union

To argue that President Bush’s State of the Union threatened civil liberties (Molly Lewis “State of the Union threatened civil liberties,” 1/26) displays nothing but the baseless paranoia that has become increasingly fashionable on the extreme left.

Lewis cites the Patriot Act as one of the most “offensive restrictions of civil liberties” promoted by President Bush and repeatedly uses the word “unconstitutional” in her description of the law. In the two and a half years since its passage, however, only one provision has been struck down by one federal judge across the entire country — and his decision was not released until after Lewis wrote her column.

The Patriot Act was designed to update anti-terrorism laws that hadn’t been touched since 1978 and codify procedures that have been accepted throughout the country for years. Under the 1978 Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act (FISA), federal agents who sought wiretap authority were only allowed to tap one phone line. Like the rest of us, suspected terrorists utilize cell phones and e-mail in their communications to one another. Under FISA, however, federal agents would need a separate court order for each communication device. Unless one believes that advances in technology should aid terrorists and hinder authorities, the Patriot Act has rightly amended some arcane laws.

Considering that the Patriot Act subsists entirely within the provisions set out by existing Fourth Amendment doctrines, claims of unconstitutionality are senselessly alarmist. Prior to the Patriot Act, federal agents sought search warrants on a district-by-district basis. As a result of its passage, federal agents can now obtain nationwide authority. This change hardly alters the existing reach of Fourth Amendment protections — the standards for obtaining a warrant remain exactly the same.

Perhaps Lewis takes issue with the “sneak and peek” warrant that was codified under the Patriot Act. That provision, however, has been a national standard for as long as anyone can remember. In fact, every warrant that authorizes electronic surveillance allows delayed notification. It would defeat the very purpose of surveillance to notify a suspected criminal that his phone is bugged.

To claim that section 215 of the Patriot Act “allows the FBI to obtain your library, travel, health, business, genetic and even video rental records without your knowledge and without any meaningful judicial oversight” is a blatant distortion of fact. Federal agents can do nothing without the approval of a federal court, and it is ludicrous to believe that a federal court would simply approve requests without basis.

Furthermore, the vast majority of library, travel, and video rental records are already in the public domain. Once information has been disclosed to someone else–such as the librarian that checks your book out — the Constitution no longer protects it. Reading habits and video-watching habits are not protected by the Constitution if one borrows or rents the property from a third party.

Moreover, criminal grand juries have long been able to subpoena the very records sought by section 215 without a search warrant or judicial approval. Shouldn’t federal agents that investigate terrorism have the same access as grand juries?

Perhaps most importantly, Sept. 11 could have been prevented had the Patriot Act existed prior to that horrific day. Minneapolis FBI agents sought approval to search Zacarias Moussaoui’s computer in the weeks leading up to September 11, but the Justice Department forbade the agents from conducting the search.

Even some Democrats have described this paranoia as completely baseless. In October 2003, Senator Joe Biden described criticism of the Patriot Act as “both misinformed and overblown.” Senator Diane Feinstein went even further, telling her fellow senators that “I have never had a single [verified] abuse of the Patriot Act reported to me. My staff e-mailed the ACLU and asked them for instances of actual abuses. They e-mailed back and said they had none.”

I also take great issue with Lewis’s criticism of the president’s discussion of high school drug testing. Once again, the facts were greatly twisted. The president did not propose mandatory drug testing, rather, he proposed an “additional $23 million for schools that want to use drug testing as a tool to save children’s lives.” The decision to drug test is left entirely to the local school districts — only they can determine if drugs are a significant threat and if testing is an appropriate response. In June 2002, the Supreme Court ruled that schools are within their rights to test student athletes and those who participate in extracurricular activities. The president did not suggest that every student should be tested.

Where is Lewis’s evidence that drug testing doesn’t work? Employees in national security and safety-sensitive positions have been subjected to pre-employment drug tests for years as a method to ensure public safety. Employers who utilize the federal drug testing model have seen a 67 percent drop in positive drugs tests.

At Hunderton Central Regional High School in Flemington, New Jersey, drug use alarmed parents and administrators during the 1996-1997 school year. A survey taken that year revealed that 45 percent of the school’s 2500 students had smoked marijuana, 13 percent had used cocaine, 10 percent had used hallucinogens, and 38 percent of seniors reported that heroin was readily available. Utilizing random tests for student athletes, drug use had plummeted by 1999, declining in 20 of 28 key categories. Unfortunately, the ACLU filed suit in September 2000, and the school district abandoned its drug tests. According to the principal, there is no question that drug use began to climb once the testing ended.

Perhaps the greatest advantage of high school drug testing isn’t even the ability to figure out which students are using drugs. Rather, mandatory testing gives students who want an “out” a convenient explanation for their behavior. It’s a lot easier to turn down drugs by saying “I can’t because I might get tested,” than “I can’t because my mom will be mad.”

Unfortunately, opinion-shapers like Lewis will continue to distort, bend and misrepresent the truth in hopes of pushing forth their agenda. Call me crazy, but I would rather forfeit a little bit of my privacy than suffer through another terrorist attack, and I would have gladly succumbed to drug-testing in high school to save the life of a fellow student.


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