Opinions on Renewing the Patriot Act and Our Right to Privacy

Congressional leaders agreed on a deal last week that would extend the Patriot Act, the law that dramatically expanded the powers of law enforcement in combating terrorism, passed in the wake of September 11. 

The recently-approved, four-year extension of the act would allow federal investigators to continue using aggressive tactics in connection with suspected terrorists.

Speaking to the Senate Judiciary Committee, Attorney General Eric Holder said we need the Patriot Act “now more than ever.” Whether the Patriot Act is an effective tool to combat terror or nothing more than the eyes and ears of Big Brother can be debated either way, but before extending the law, there needs to be a national dialogue about how the nature of privacy, security, and how it has changed since that dreadful day in September.

The nature of privacy has dramatically changed since the early 2000s, and this can be attributed to far more than national security concerns. With the explosion of social media, information that many Americans would have wanted kept secret 30 years ago is freely given away to the public. Where we live, what we do, who our friends are, where we went to high school, our family members; all of this is freely given away by millions Americans, especially among our generation.

Furthermore, companies like Apple and Google are amassing gigantic amounts of private information, often times also without consent. Those who don’t oppose giving new-found surveillance powers to government often say they have nothing to hide, and true to their word, they don’t. Perhaps in 2011 privacy is looked at differently, or perhaps it isn’t even a concern at all.

However, you can choose to not have a smartphone and not sign up for Facebook. Nobody consents to a wiretap. Nobody consents to being watched on camera, and there are many who would prefer to fly without a projection of their naked body being seen by a complete stranger.

Has the the post-9/11 world given way to a surveillance culture? Are we as millennials growing up in an Orwellian society right under our own noses? At what point do we draw the line?

If the rise of the Tea Party has shown us anything, it’s that 21st century America has grown to regard the government with suspicion and hostility. So why is it we are giving the government such broad-reaching powers without demanding transparency and safeguards on their power? If there’s a potential for abuse, it’s fair to assume that sooner or later someone will do it, and to trust the federal government not to violate your rights is a risky venture.

Despite this seemingly obvious idea, a recent poll by the Suffolk University Political research center found “58% of people said the Patriot Act was necessary to keep us safe, compared with only 31% who felt that it gives the government too much power and invades privacy,” according to a release on their website.

If you wouldn’t let a small child play with a gun unsupervised, you shouldn’t let an NSA agent do the same thing with a camera. If we are giving more power to the national security apparatus, we need to know what they are doing with it and whether it is being used effectively.

Benjamin Franklin once said that those who would sacrifice liberty for security deserve neither liberty nor security. While it can be debated as to whether the Patriot Act is unconstitutional or not, there’s no question the nature of privacy and the nature of surveillance have changed more in the past ten years than perhaps any other time in our history. We need to adapt to these changes by re-evaluating privacy in the digital age while making sure our rights that our fore bearers fought for are not being infringed upon.

Matt Ryan [TNGG Boston] I'm a lifelong Democrat and writer of a politically-oriented column, "Banned in D.C." Hobbies include watching TV and listening to super intense bands with mad scary dudes that have tattoos and stuff.

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