Surveillance State

The American Conservative May 19, 2003 issue – Surveillance State.

Since September 11, a flood of federal legislation has reduced American freedom without increasing our security.

Perhaps you've visited your local library to keep speed with the War on Terror: borrowed a few books on Islamic fundamentalism or did web research on biochemical weapons. Beware.

Last January, an FBI agent entered a branch of the St. Louis Public Library and requested a list of all the sign-up sheets showing names of people who used library computers on Dec. 28, 2002. Even though the FBI agent did not have a warrant or subpoena, the library quickly surrendered the list of all users. The FBI acted because someone phoned in a tip that they “smelled something strange” about a library patron of Middle Eastern descent.

Welcome to America under the Patriot Act. One person claims to “smell something,” and the feds can round up everyone's records. From books you check out to credit card purchases, money transfers to medications, your activities are now subject to federal surveillance. Uncle Sam now has a blank check to search and pry–all in the name of security.

Last October, then House Majority Leader Dick Armey branded our own Justice Department “the biggest threat to personal liberty in the country.” And while that characterization of a Republican Justice Department makes many conservatives cringe, the DOJ has been working overtime to expand its power –and the biggest danger may be yet to come.

When John Ashcroft was in the U.S. Senate, he was a leader in the fight to protect Americans' privacy. In an August 1997 op-ed, Ashcroft declared, “This is no reason to hand Big Brother the keys to unlock our e-mail diaries, open our ATM records, read our medical records, or translate our international communications.” His early days as attorney general showed a keen appreciation for the Bill of Rights' constraints. That changed on 9/11.  [Privacy Digest]

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