"My inclination to be relieved of having to think, particularly about unpleasant facts, helped to sway the balance. In this I did not differ from millions of others. Such mental slackness above all facilitated, established and finally assured the success of the National Socialist system."
— ALBERT SPEER
In every direction I turn, my civil rights are quietly being eroded behind volumes of rhetoric. The Patriot Act stands as the most glaring of such efforts, chipping away at my personal freedom and right of privacy. On its heels, CAPPS II further degrades the promises to citizens of the United States, made by the Constitution and the Bill of Rights.
Many have questioned, after serious review, how Congress could have passed the Patriot Act. The act itself, "To deter and punish terrorist acts in the United States and around the world, to enhance law enforcement investigatory tools, and for other purposes," sounded logical in the heated emotional environment post Sept. 11. Passed on Oct. 25, 2001, as retaliatory energy swirled throughout the country, there was no congressional debate about any of its Sections or Titles. A brilliant and perfectly timed stroke, to implement a long-standing plan and far-reaching agenda, by those who would undermine our freedoms.
A review of the document further reveals why there was such silence. The document itself is 127 pages, and referential to prior United States Code filings. This is not a straightforward or simple read and it affects all of us. It is confusing and difficult, if not impossible, to comprehend.
Broad sweeping in its scope, the Act allows for the gathering of information from education facilities, credit facilities, financial institutions, allows for oral, wire and electronic taps, seizure of voice mail messages, without warrant, all within the framework of "suspected terrorist activities."
Basically, it allows for the gathering of the history of one's life. Section 626 further enhances their power, by " '(c) CONFIDENTIALITY — No consumer reporting agency, or officer, or employee, or agent of such consumer reporting agency, shall disclose to any person, or specify in any consumer report, that a government agency has sought or obtained access to information under subsection (a)." In other words, the government can slip into your private records without a trace. Talk about Big Brother watching you.
I'm all for shutting down terrorists, but I'm 100% against the government snooping in my e-mail and my bank account. I pay my taxes and other than that it's none of their business — unless they decide that I might be a suspect. And as noted in my last column, anyone of us can be arrested and held uncharged, under the guise of suspected terrorist activity.
Not quite satisfied with the broad scope they've already slipped through the radar screen, the administration now proposes to implement CAPPS II - Computer Assisted Passenger Prescreening System. This newest piece of surveillance architecture will collate into one behemoth database the following: financial records and transactions, arrest and conviction records, FBI records, DMV records, criminal convictions, civil suits, bankruptcy and divorce, property records, voter rolls, educational records, purchase records, subscription lists, telephone listings, private organizational directories, and insurance coverage.
A quick analysis of your information will provide a profile. Based on your risk assessment you will be tagged green for safe passage, yellow for further interrogation, or red banned from the flight. This decision will be made by a ticket taker viewing your personal files without your consent, and on information assumed to be free of errors. Profiling at its best.
Freedom of privacy has been lost in the search for the airline attacker who, with even a modicum of intelligence, will know how to elude the system before it is operational. The losers are you and I, millions of innocent citizens, who continue to be sold out by our representatives in the name of a fear they cannot contain. The strength of this mighty nation has been the freedoms that we extol to the rest of the world. Why are we letting them slip away? Why is our government so afraid of us that they would eliminate the foundations upon which our nation was founded?
CATHARINE COOPER is a member of the City Open Space Committee. She can be reached at email@example.com
Copyright 2003 Los Angeles Times