The cost of national insecurity

After Sept. 11, video surveillance cameras disguised as street lamps and Big Brother breathing on the other end of your cell phone conversation seem like small prices to pay for security.

Indeed, the world as we know it has changed.

Supposedly, blacks are breathing a sigh of relief as America finds a new group to racially profile. The reason for the calm can be found in a recent “Boondocks” comic strip, which noted that according to Newsweek, “Black Americans were no longer the most-hated racial/ethnic group in America.”

The New York Police Department, once America’s most vilified, is now one of the country’s most-celebrated group of heroes.

Politicians have abandoned partisan rhetoric, at least for now, and have pledged to actually do something up on the Hill.

And then there are the flags on public display throughout the country.

But in the midst of all this patriotic unity, the government has passed sweeping anti-terrorism laws that threaten American civil liberties.

According to, law enforcement agencies now have the power to conduct secret property searches, detain individuals without charges, jail people on secret evidence, and hold military tribunals for suspected terrorists.

On Oct. 26, the USA Patriot Act was signed into law as part of America’s continuing war on terrorism. Under the act, the government can renew detention orders for as long as six months, without charging the suspect with a crime.

Also, the feds can monitor conversations between inmates and their lawyers that are deemed “reasonably necessary in order to deter future acts of violence or terrorism.” And on Nov. 13, President Bush signed an executive order that allows suspected terrorists to be tried in secret military tribunals.

There is also talk of national identity cards, finger printing and retinal scans.

In response to these far-reaching intrusions, civil liberties advocates are waving the Constitution, and members of Congress want to talk it over in hearings. Yet so far, Americans are willing to give up some civil liberties for feel-good security.

A recent poll found that the majority of Americans favor the use of face-recognition technology in public places, implementation of a national ID cards, as well as expanded government monitoring of cell phones and e-mail, according to a story on dated Nov. 14.

But you can’t blame them; fear is a powerful weapon. According to published news reports, President Bush marketed the legislation as something that would “help law enforcement to identify, to dismantle, to disrupt and to punish terrorists before they strike.”

Despite the notion of safety, these expanded powers scream danger. Currently, the FBI is detaining over a thousand individuals, even though no evidence links the majority of them to terrorists.

Also, if we are not careful, the line between terrorism and activism will blur. People with views against the government, like Communists in the ’50s and civil rights advocates in the 60s, could find themselves under a federal microscope. Soon a pro-choice rally or a march against global capitalism could be considered an act of terrorism or a threat to national security.

But the real threat is the likelihood that these measures will continue long after our national emergency is over. The freedoms that we sing about and fight for could vanish as we take baby steps toward living in a police state.

In this war on terrorism, when it comes to protecting our freedom, we may become our own worst enemy. And in this post-Sept. 11 era of heightened security, intrusive government, and constitutional juggling, Bush’s new “normal” is scary as hell.

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