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Civil Libertys Paper

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Essay title: Civil Libertys Paper

Since the terrorist suicide bombed the world trade center and a wing of the pentagon, there has been a change in the relationship between the United States government and the people. The executive branch has taken steps that undermine the principles in the United States constitution. In order to ensure a more democratic society, we have to tell the difference between effective governing and individual freedom. There is one main topic I’m going to talk about how the 1st amendment, 4th amendment, 5th amendment, and 6th amendment are being eroded by the USA PARTRIOT Act which introduced a overabundance of legislative changes which considerably increased the surveillance and investigative powers of law enforcement agencies in the United States.

The First Amendment protects our rights of free speech and assembly, the independence of the press, and prohibits official establishment or unfair criticism of any particular religion. Free speech rights can be thought of as having two parts, the right to have free access to ideas, and the right to express ideas freely. The right to calm assembly goes with free speech given that demonstrations and other political activity are protected as expressive behavior. While government actions threaten all these rights stated by the First Amendment, it is our free speech and assembly rights which are most at risk. The USA PATRIOT Act contains provisions that will criminalize people’s legitimate expressions of their political views. For example, the Act creates a new category of crime; domestic terrorism blurs the line between speech and criminal activity. Section 802 of the Act defines domestic terrorism as “acts dangerous to human life that are a violation of criminal laws” that “appear to be intended to influence the policy of a government by intimidation or coercion.” This definition is very vague. Such a vague definition invites abuse, in which the distant possibility of danger creates a pretext under which political activists can be arrested and charged with felony domestic terrorism, rather than the misdemeanor charges that they usually get. Section 411 of the USA PATRIOT Act also threatens First Amendments rights both by punishing expression and limiting our access of to ideas. Under this provision, entry into the United States is made reliant on a political litmus test: individuals associated with groups “whose endorsement of acts of terrorist activity the Secretary of State has determined undermines the United States’ efforts to reduce or eliminate terrorist activity” will be denied entry. This restriction is kind of like the one used in the McCarran-Walter Act- the law which denied entry into the country to any foreign national associated with a communist party or movement. If you think the USA PATRIOT Act is a big thorn in the side of our future of free expression in this country, It’s nothing compared with the actions of the Justice Department. After September 11th, reports surfaced of FBI agents questioning people about their political views and activities. In one situation in October of 2001, a retired man in San Francisco was questioned extensively about his politics after he voiced doubts about the war in Afghanistan in his health club. Three days later, a college student in North Carolina was interviewed after the FBI received reports that she was displaying an “un-American poster.” Agents performed an extensive background check, and questioned her about her mother, who is in the armed forces, and about her opinions about the Taliban. These incidents give a distressing light on new guidelines that relax restrictions on FBI infiltration and surveillance of political and religious groups. By undermining the ability of Americans to hear unpopular opinions these policies threaten to choke off currents of thought and expression that often lead to greater justice for all.

The Fourth Amendment protects against unfair searches and seizures, and requires law enforcement officers to get a warrant from a judge certifying that there is probable cause to believe that criminal activity has taken place before for any search. The Fourth Amendment ensures that law enforcement agencies and officers do not act cruelly or conduct investigations where no credible evidence of wrongdoing exists. Disregard for the Fourth Amendment protections was played out when hundreds of immigrants were in custody without criminal charges, long beyond the point at which tourist and student visa violations provided legal grounds for holding them in custody. If the prisoners were and are being held pursuant to a criminal investigation, the Fourth Amendment requires the government to formally charge them with a crime, and provide a court hearing within 48 hours to determine whether there is probable cause to justify their custody. By refusing to take these actions, the government has dishonored the rights of hundreds of those under arrest in the course of their

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