The terrorists won.
That’s the only conclusion possible as we mark Tuesday’s 20th anniversary of the USA PATRIOT Act, which continues to set the American people under a federal microscope.
It’s time to erase this legislative overreach from the books and give our citizenry back the freedoms and rights we are guaranteed under the Constitution, and never should have lost.
The Patriot Act was a knee-jerk response to the terrorists attacks that shocked our country on Sept. 11, 2001. The legislation enjoyed bipartisan support as Congress members dutifully followed the old adage that they should never let a crisis go to waste. They were eager to show the American people that they were taking steps to protect us and earning our votes in the next election.
Many Americans voiced alarm and outright opposition to the scope and reach of the act, prompting officials to raise the level of urgency and declaring that if they didn’t take these steps to restrict public behavior and spy on their own constituents, “the terrorists have won” — never mind that they were doing exactly what terrorists actually want: show fear, lose confidence and turn on each other.
In addition to supporting President George W. Bush’s reorganization of federal agencies under a new, larger Department of Homeland Security, the Patriot Act formally authorized the erection of a fence along the Mexican border and fast-tracked it, allowing agencies to ignore all other laws, including private and historical property protections and all environmental laws.
It’s worth noting, in light of recent efforts to make the border barrier bigger and speed up its construction, that the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service last month announced plans to remove 23 species of creatures from the Endangered Species list, as their placement no longer is necessary — those creatures are now extinct.
One of the goals was to consolidate agencies’ access to such information, making it easier to share information on convicted and suspected criminals, immigration status, jail bookings and arrests. Two decades later, officials still complain that such databases aren’t fully accessible and that law enforcement agencies don’t readily cooperate with each other.
The Patriot Act turned the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act, designed to spy on foreign operatives, on U.S. citizens, giving federal agencies the authority to tap our phones, review bank transactions and even look at what books we checked out at the library.
Officials seem to have grown to enjoy access to private information so much that the Biden administration currently is lobbying to get the authority to look into all Americans’ bank transactions that exceed $600. The average full-time worker’s paycheck deposit — most welfare, unemployment and Social Security deposits, for that matter — would trigger the spyware.
In 20 years we’ve been in and out of Iraq, Iran and Afghanistan. We’ve gotten rid of Saddam Hussein and Osama bin Laden as well as other suspected terrorists.
Twenty years after the horrible attacks, our government continues to wage war against only one enemy — its own people.
It’s time to declare victory, and repeal the Patriot Act.