If the United States is at war against terrorism to preserve freedom, a new coalition of conservatives and liberals is asking, why is it doing so by wholesale abrogation of civil liberties? They cite the Halloween-week passage of the antiterrorism bill -- a new law that carries the almost preposterously gimmicky title: "Uniting and Strengthening America by Providing Appropriate Tools Required to Intercept and Obstruct Terrorism Act" (USA PATRIOT Act). Critics both left and right are saying it not only strips Americans of fundamental rights but does little or nothing to secure the nation from terrorist attacks.
Rep. Ron Paul of Texas, one of only three Republican lawmakers to buck the House leadership and the Bush administration to vote against this legislation, is outraged not only by what is contained in the antiterrorism bill but also by the effort to stigmatize opponents. Paul tells INSIGHT, "The insult is to call this a `patriot bill' and suggest I'm not patriotic because I insisted upon finding out what is in it and voting no. I thought it was undermining the Constitution, so I didn't vote for it -- and therefore I'm somehow not a patriot. That's insulting."
Paul confirms rumors circulating in Washington that this sweeping new law, with serious implications for each and every American, was not made available to members of Congress for review before the vote. "It's my understanding the bill wasn't printed before the vote -- at least I couldn't get it. They played all kinds of games, kept the House in session all night, and it was a very complicated bill. Maybe a handful of staffers actually read it, but the bill definitely was not available to members before the vote."
And why would that be? "This is a very bad bill," explains Paul, "and I think the people who voted for it knew it and that's why they said, `Well, we know it's bad, but we need it under these conditions.'" Meanwhile, efforts to obtain copies of the new law were stonewalled even by the committee that wrote it.
What is so bad about the new law? "Generally," says Paul, "the worst part of this so-called antiterrorism bill is the increased ability of the federal government to commit surveillance on all of us without proper search warrants." He is referring to Section 213 (Authority for Delaying Notice of the Execution of a Warrant), also known as the "sneak-and-peak" provision, which effectively allows police to avoid giving prior warning when searches of personal property are conducted. Before the USA PATRIOT Act, the government had to obtain a warrant and give notice to the person whose property was to be searched. With one vote by Congress and the sweep of the president's pen, say critics, the right of every American fully to be protected under the Fourth Amendment against unreasonable searches and seizures was abrogated.
The Fourth Amendment states: "The right of the people to be secure in their persons, houses, papers, and effects, against unreasonable searches and seizures, shall not be violated; and no warrants shall issue, but upon probable cause, supported by oath or affirmation, and particularly describing the place to be searched, and the persons or things to be seized."
According to the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU), which is joining with conservatives as critics of the legislation, the rationale for the Fourth Amendment protection always has been to provide the person targeted for search with the opportunity to "point out irregularities in the warrant, such as the fact that the police may be at the wrong address or that the warrant is limited to a search of a stolen car, so the police have no authority to be looking into dresser drawers." Likely bad scenarios involving the midnight knock at the door are not hard to imagine.
Paul, a strict constructionist (see Picture Profile, Sept. 3), has a pretty good idea of what Americans may anticipate. "I don't like the sneak-and-peak provision because you have to ask yourself what happens if the person is home, doesn't know that law enforcement is coming to search his home, hasn't a clue as to who's coming in unannounced . …