Big Brother in the Batsuit

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Imagine you live in a society that is on the verge of chaos. Evildoers target innocents for no purpose other than to inflict terror on the masses. Luckily for you, a billionaire hero comes to the rescue.

At times morally questionable and unpopular, this hero always has your best interests at heart. Although he has a deep appreciation for the civil liberties you hold sacred, he knows that in times of emergency, civil liberties might need to take a backseat to security. But rest assured, this billionaire in a batsuit will only curb your freedoms in times of crisis. Though he is literally watching over your make-believe city - we'll call it Gotham - via cell phone frequency, his plan is not to become Big Brother.

You see, after the threat subsides, his high-tech surveillance system will be destroyed - because, after all, having the ability to watch over an entire city is far too much power for one man to have.

Now stop imagining - it's about to get real.

We don't live in Gotham, and we don't have a real-life Batman. We live in a society that is still trying to reconcile the threat of terrorism with the ideal of liberty. Thus, we have the Patriot Act.

Now I can't argue that the act has or has not made us safer, as it is impossible to know how many terrorist attacks have been prevented because of it. Those who support this abomination of the Constitution will undoubtedly use that line of argument because it is impossible to counter - any information that could confirm or deny it would be classified.

What I can and will argue is that, in many ways, the Patriot Act is unconstitutional and without check. Although it theoretically has an expiration date, our government is more than willing to extend its life.

Whenever the Patriot Act comes to the floor of the House or the Senate it receives bipartisan support for its extension. Just recently, Congress voted to extend the most controversial parts of the legislation for three additional months.

Perhaps I'm a sucker for a good quote, but I tend to agree with Benjamin Franklin's notion that, "Those who would give up essential Liberty, to purchase a little temporary Safety, deserve neither Liberty nor Safety."

Are library and bookstore records really indicators of terrorist activities? The last time I checked, "Terrorism for Dummies" was not available at Barnes and Noble. But Section 215 of the Patriot Act deals with just that: under this provision the government can obtain "any tangible thing," that is deemed pertinent to a terrorism investigation.

The word "thing," is intentionally vague. Any object can fall under the definition of a "thing." Study abroad in the Middle East? Perhaps you did some traveling through Palestine or Syria, thus the government might need to know what "things" you've been reading. Under Section 215, they can find out fairly easily. And the kicker is that the government doesn't even have to show reasonable cause - if your private life can be framed as a concern to national security, then your private life is no longer private.

Have you ever been talking on the phone and felt a strange suspicion that someone might be listening in? Well, someone might actually be listening. Section 206 of the Patriot Act allows for roving wiretaps that allow the government to obtain surveillance orders without identifying a particular target or site. Think Batman without the destruction of the surveillance device.

The government can now obtain National Security Letters that make the communication, financial and credit records of any person deemed relevant to a terrorism investigation fair game. These people need not be directly related to a terrorist suspect, and are more times than not two or three times removed from the person under investigation.

So if you have ever known someone who has even the most tenuous of connections to a suspect, then your personal information could become government property. Perhaps getting coffee with the cute Persian girl from o-chem doesn't seem so important now.

I think one of the most offensive parts of this bill is the name itself: the Patriot Act. Think about it for a moment. This immediately frames anyone who might oppose a breech of privacy as unpatriotic. But the Supreme Court has interpreted the Ninth and 14th Amendments to the Constitution as guarantors of privacy. Thus it appears that the Patriot Act has been named incorrectly. Perhaps a more fitting name would be Big Brother.

So I am left wondering this: How can a nation built around the ideal of freedom possibly justify surveillance of its own citizenry? Well, if you support the Patriot Act, you will say it's a price we have to pay for safety. But we cannot defeat terrorism by sacrificing the very values that we claim make us exceptional.

Unfortunately, we have no Bruce Wayne-type figure who knows when enough is enough. Someone shine the bat light, because we desperately need a savior.

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