FOUNDED: February 9, 2001
|07-04-2003, 12:40 AM||#1|
Join Date: Jun 2001
Fear flows Freely in the name of Security
It's bad enough that those same officers can grope through records of which doctors you see, what ailments you suffer and how many pills you take - without your permission or your knowledge.
But bad enough isn't good enough. Here comes something worse: The federal government has developed an experimental X-ray machine for airport security. It works well. Too well.
Sure, it detects guns and bombs. That's nice. But it also reveals lumpy thighs, droopy bellies and saggy butts. It even shows off the chi-chis your mama told you to keep covered.
And that is but one Big Brother indicator of the health of our civil liberties, two centuries after we obtained them.
In Albuquerque, teachers have suffered disciplinary action for the crime of tacking up posters and engaging classroom discussions about the war in Iraq.
In Taos, librarians have posted signs warning patrons that federal sleuths can snoop through records of the books they read and the Internet sites they visit.
In Washington, D.C., U.S. Rep. Tom Udall, a Santa Fe Democrat, grows ever more vocal about the erosion of our rights.
It isn't the first time, he pointed out in a recent speech to the American Civil Liberties Union's New Mexico chapter.
Udall recalled John Adams signing the Alien and Sedition Act - a law that could lock you up for saying something critical about the president.
He remembered Abraham Lincoln suspending the writ of habeas corpus - the document that essentially entitles prisoners to their days in court.
And he noted the World War II concentration camps - not in Germany, but America. They were packed with U.S. citizens who happened to be of Japanese descent.
"In times of crisis and in times of fear," Udall said, "a lot of times our country doesn't act rationally. And that's the situation we've found ourselves in."
The anxious months after 9-11 fueled an antiterrorist zeal that at times resembled hysteria. The USA Patriot Act - rewritten by a House committee under cover of night - passed with a speed unknown in the generally sluggish halls of Congress.
It awarded federal investigators a few years of sweeping powers. But that's not enough, apparently.
Attorney General John Ashcroft has asked Congress for permanent authority to pry into private lives and generally subvert the Constitution. And to what end?
The FBI could have foiled the 9-11 terrorists if higher-ups had simply listened to underlings. Or if the CIA had stationed more agents in the Middle East. Or if the Immigration and Naturalization Service had actually checked out who got visas.
Patriot Act backers would tell you not to worry - as long as you're not a terrorist, not a lawbreaker, not a mental case ready to blow. Peter Simonson, executive director of New Mexico's ACLU, disagrees.
"How do any of us know what someone else considers evidence of suspicious activity?" he said. "If something comes up after a fishing expedition through your private life, they can make of your life a hell."
Freeze your assets. Seize your property. Interview your friends and family members. Raise suspicions about your integrity.
In 1776, this country declared itself free from tyranny. In 2003, no one would dream of reverting to an oppressive, intrusive and Orwellian government.
But we are nevertheless edging ever closer to its slippery slope, motivated by fear and comforted by the notion that we'll be OK - as long as we do nothing suspicious, as long as we cross no invisible lines, as long as we protest no president.
"Before, the rules were hard and fast," Simonson said. "Now they can bend them."
Soon, they will break them.