I’ve always been a little ambivalent about the Patriot Act, despite my general good feelings toward John Ashcroft. It has been said nothing is more permanent than a temporary government program and I’m not sure the Patriot act is something I want sticking around until the end of time. Necessary for now, maybe. But forever? And whatever good it might do, what bad consequences could come of it, and are they worth it?
One of the questionable results of legislation like the Patriot Act is this. A 16-year-old boy was taken from his home last week by federal agents on suspicion that bomb threats had been made from his computer. In addition to the teenager, the agents took his computer, video game console, router, and school records. He’s currently sitting in a juvenile detention hall in South Bend, IN. Furthermore, he’s been denied due process rights because he’s believed to be an enemy of the United States.
I firmly believe that if a threat is detected it needs to be investigated, though the idea of a 10th-grade homeschooler in Midwestern America becoming a tool of the Taliban makes me raise an eyebrow. However, whether this kid is an enemy of the state or not he’s still an American citizen and entitled to the protection of the Constitution. Were he a foreign suspect, things would be different. But if he is a citizen, the Constitution applies.
Cases like this illustrate why we must be very careful before signing more power over to the government. We want it to protect us—indeed, that is one of government’s most basic functions—but we don’t want a state that can strip us of our constitutional rights at the slightest whim. Unintended consequences are everywhere, and we should always bear them in mind before taking such steps as the Patriot Act.