The Daily Tar Heel

Serving the students and the University community since 1893

Wednesday October 20th

Patriot Act Questions Inalienable Rights

It's a time to celebrate the origin of the United States of America and the people -- soldiers, statesmen and everyday citizens -- who sacrificed their lives and their fortunes.

But Independence Day also serves as a needed period of reflection.

It should be a time for all citizens to consider the meaning behind the lofty truths in the Declaration of Independence and the protections enshrined in the Bill of Rights.

As the United States prepares to celebrate its 226th birthday this Thursday, all Americans should pay closer attention to the guiding wisdom of the Founding Fathers, who sought to prevent a powerful government from infringing on the rights of individuals.

Several recent events involving the infringement of those same rights have left the Founding Fathers turning over in their graves.

Armed with a secret subpoena signed by an anonymous judge in a closed-door hearing, agents from the Federal Bureau of Investigation can force librarians to surrender reading lists of patrons.

The strong-arm tactics extend to imprisoning librarians who fail to comply and even those who discuss the materials searched by the FBI.

This amounts to nothing more than a sample of the FBI flexing its newly found muscles granted by the USA PATRIOT Act. The act, passed in the wave of shock and blind fear that paralyzed the United States after the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks, also allows federal agents to access private student information with little to no real reason.

The act weakens judges' powers to monitor wiretaps to ensure that they are justified while increasing the federal government's ability to conduct secret searches.

The same fear of terrorists has led to secret trials and people imprisoned for months for reasons the authorities haven't bothered to disclose.

In the stampede for protection, America's leaders have lost sight of amendments in the Bill of Rights shielding free speech, ensuring a speedy and public trial and protecting against unreasonable searches and seizures.

By failing to provide those rights, America's leaders are shirking their responsibility to shield the ideals upon which the United States of America was founded and for which so many loyal citizens have fought and died trying to protect.

To get back on track, Congress must re-examine the USA PATRIOT Act while reflecting on the Founding Fathers' intentions.

Ignoring pesky protections might make the United States a safer place, but it's not worth sacrificing inalienable rights to life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness.

Patrick Henry struck the proper chord when he said, "Give me liberty or give me death!"

Comments or questions can reach Lucas Fenske at fenske@email.unc.edu.

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