As is true with personal decisions, so with acts of Congress: The worst decisions are made in times of crisis. Last week, with banners flying, an anti-terrorism bill sailed through Congress. The bill hands over new powers to search homes, tap phone lines, and track e-mails. With one fell swoop, it potentially wiped out thirty years of advances in civil liberties, privacy rights, and neighborly trust.
Until September 11, the legal blueprint for civil liberties evolved as a balance, where police had to request search warrants, and where law and order was measured against personal freedoms. But the new sentiment threatens to throw this balance out of whack.
The bill passed the Senate with only one dissenting voice and passed the House with a vote of nearly five to one, including Ron Wyden dissenting. But in spite of Wyden's opposition, he turned around to co-support a bill with Sen. Gordon Smith that would allow federal agents greater freedoms in investigating citizens.
Two years ago, Congress enacted the Citizens Protection Act, which requires federal prosecutors to abide by local legal ethical codes. In Oregon, where attorney codes of conduct are particularly high, this means that FBI agents cannot use deception and sting operations to make arrests. But Wyden's law, if passed, will eradicate those safeguards.
Just three weeks ago, City Council approved 4-1 the ordinance that would renew the Joint Terrorism Task Force, a collaboration between local police and FBI agents. This flings open the door for the FBI to use this new latitude in home searches and wire-tapping.
Should we decide how to handle law-abiding political activists based on the horrific actions of a few hundred terrorists? Ironically, the war against the Taliban is being fought in name of American freedoms, while our nation is denying those very basic liberties.
Yes, contact Rep. Wyden. More importantly, support the Police Accountability Bill (
www.pac-2002.org). This voter initiative has until January to gather enough signatures to make next summer's ballot. Under this bill, a citizen review committee would be established in Portland as a watchdog for the local police. These types of checks and balances--and not police tactics--are the very foundations of democracy. PHIL BUSSE