Former Republican Congressman Bob Barr spoke candidly Monday night about the importance of fighting the U.S. Patriot Act’s most intrusive infringements on civil liberties to an audience of about 50 people.
Barr, who at first voted in favor of the legislation, reluctantly admitted that he realized his error when the government began to broaden its powers beyond the scope of fighting terrorism.
“If we continue on the same path, the Fourth Amendment will be rendered meaningless,” Barr said.
This year, many of the provisions of the controversial document are expiring, or “sunsetting,” and will be up for re-analysis. Barr said the current administration seeks to maintain all the power the Patriot Act has bestowed upon it. Therefore, he said, it is important for all citizens to be aware of the freedoms lost and make their grievances heard to local officials.
“If we tried to conquer all the problems in the act, we would most certainly fail. We are trying to fix those few provisions — the ones most easily understandable — that can be easily fixed so that it will not infringe upon national security, but that undermine the Bill of Rights,” Barr said.
He pointed out that real people face real problems, from being profiled in airports to being spied on because of visits to certain Web sites and the act is adversely affecting a large number of innocent people. All a government official has to do is go to a courtroom and obtain a warrant with the premise of a counter-terrorism investigation, and the courtroom has no right to ask for details.
According to Barr, the language of the Patriot Act is so vague and unconstitutional that the definition of a terrorist has been rendered as “anyone committing or the appearance of committing acts of violence to change government policy.”
The government has the power to investigate, profile and work against anyone without his or her knowledge. It has the power to go to a person’s doctor, see his or her prescriptions, go to a library and view what he or she checked out and even stop a person from flying nationally or abroad.
Barr insisted audience members talk to whomever they know to get people involved in the fight against these provisions.
“Look around,” said an audience member. “There is only a handful of students here; is there any hope of pulling this off without student activism?”
“No,” Barr said. “This has to be multi-generational.”
Patrice Webb, a student resource officer who works directly with the American Civil Liberties Union in Washington D.C., stressed membership and activism.
“Students owe it to elected officials to hold them accountable for the decisions they make,” Webb said.
For students, Webb said there are two main Web sites they can log onto to get involved. The ACLU’s freedomwire.org and studentsforfreedom.org allow students to research resolutions and current issues in their areas.
After touring the country for two years speaking out against and educating the public about the Patriot Act, Barr said he realized the reason Sept. 11 happened.
“September 11 didn’t happen because we did not have the Patriot Act, it happened because the government didn’t properly use the power it already had,” Barr said.