The Law of Unintended Consequences Has Not Been Repealed

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.


  1. I feel bound to point out that the constitution makes absolutely no differentiation based on citizenship. The Fifth Amendment talks about "No *person*...", not "No *citizen*...". The Fourteenth explicitly guarantees "Equal protection" to every *person*, regardless of citizenship, within a state's jurisdiction.

    In other words: if they can do it to me, they can do it to you.

  2. Vet
    Its the 14th amendment
    That narrows down both rights of natural citizens and gives equal protection. And a normal reading of it would say the Patriot Act is unconstitutional if used on American Citizens.
    In this case Christina is right.

  3. vet,

    As Project Savior pointed out, the Constitution does indeed draw a line between citizens and non-citizens. The Patriot Act shouldn't be used against citizens and, to the best of my knowledge, was not designed to be used this way. Another reason we should be careful before giving the government such power.

  4. Well, you may be right. The 14th Amendment is long and circuitous. But the 5th Amendment is still brief and to the point. "No *person* shall... be deprived of life, liberty, or property, without due process of law". If the 14th is somehow interpreted as amending that so that "person" now reads "citizen", then my opinion of America would hit a new low.