To the editor of THE EAGLE:
For better or worse, the so-called Patriot Act gives the government carte blanche to do many things in the name of national security. For instance, every phone call, email or electronic transaction you make is permanently stored in a gigantic mainframe in Utah, and presumably backed up in the "cloud."
If the government wants to know what you did last year, it’s easy to find out. If the government claims you are about to commit or participate in a "terrorist event" you can be indefinitely detained or even liquidated without the benefit of "due process." And large private militias have been commissioned to do things that the U.S. military cannot properly do.
It’s not clear how much of this work is actually administered by the government, though all of it is authorized by Congress and financed by the American people as part of the so-called black box budget. Staid corporate consulting firms like Booz Allen Hamilton have been granted multi-billion dollar contracts to do the heavy lifting, and their many thousands of well-paid employees aren’t answerable to the government. These private contractors might not be well constrained from doing whatever they or their employees choose to with the information we pay them to collect, organize and maintain.
The Patriot Act must have taken a lot of work and time to generate, but only a few lawmakers asked where it came from or what it meant. It simply showed up like a spontaneous miracle to save us on the heels of 9/11, and only a few members of Congress dared to oppose it. It’s possible that some of it could be declared unconstitutional by federal courts if ever challenged, but so far there seem to be numerous firewalls embedded within the law that prevent any kind of overt judicial review from happening. The entire security apparatus and funding structures pre-dates the Obama administration, and the president has shown no appetite for publicly confronting any of it.
The only remaining citadel is the American people, but most of us couldn’t care less and Congress has gladly followed our lead by standing down. We are abdicating our freedoms without a whimper. Sooner or later all of us will be substantially impacted by what this means, and that’s when it will be too late to push back. JEFF HERMAN