Our View: Big Brother Lives?

AT ISSUE: Ruling gives Justice Department expanded surveillance powers under Patriot Act

A decision made by a specially appointed three-judge panel just made government spying a whole lot easier.

According to the Associated Press, Attorney General John Ashcroft told reporters that the ruling "revolutionizes our ability to investigate terrorists and prosecute terrorist acts."

However, the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) and several other groups believe the ruling will infringe upon basic rights, including free speech and due process protections, by giving the government far greater ability to tap telephones, read e-mail and search private property.

''We are deeply disappointed with the decision, which suggests that this special court exists only to rubber-stamp government applications for intrusive surveillance warrants,'' said Ann Beeson, who argued the case for the ACLU.

So, hypothetically, a student or professor could end up under surveillance just by researching al-Qaida or other terror organizations on the Internet or by making phonecalls.

What is troublesome is the ACLU cannot appeal this case because the Justice Department was the only party on record. This means the ACLU will have to find another way to contest the ruling, such as a criminal case involving intelligence surveillance.

"This is a major constitutional decision that will affect every American's privacy rights, yet there is no way anyone but the government can automatically appeal this ruling to the Supreme Court," Beeson said.

Orwellian as it may seem, conservatives insist the new powers do more to ensure national security than infringe upon civil liberties.

Robert F. Turner, associate director of the Center for National Security Law at the University of Virginia, said the decision will enhance government coordination in the war against terrorism and should not unduly infringe on constitutional protections.

Ashcroft offered his own defense. "We have no desire whatsoever to in any way erode or undermine constitutional liberties," he said.

In light of the untouchable nature of this decision, Americans literally can only hope Ashcroft means it.


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