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Good Law, Repression, or Long Acronym?

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What's up with the anti-terrorism law Congress passed? Is it gonna make us any safer? And what about my civil liberties?

The legislation you're referring to is the Uniting and Strengthening America by Providing Appropriate Tools Required to Intercept and Obstruct Terrorism Act. Here's something really neat: Take the first letter from each word, and it spells USA PATRIOT Act. Is that a crazy coincidence, or what?

Civil libertarians say the law destroys civil liberties and that law enforcement will abuse the extra powers it affords. The legislation's supporters say that, in giving government agencies more power, the government will be better able to protect us from terrorism. And with a name like USA PATRIOT, the implication is that if you're against it, you're Obviously Some Anti-American Mindless Asshole. That's OSAMA for short.

Let's have a look at some of the USA PATRIOT Act's provisions:

* Permits the detention of non-citizens deemed terrorist suspects, even if the suspect hasn't broken any laws. Opponents argue that the detention of law-abiding people is un-American. Proponents note that non-citizens ain't American.

* Allows government agents to search your home or office without informing you they've done so. The premise here is that by not telling you they're watching you, you'll be far easier to investigate. Our rights are impeding law enforcement! How selfish we are. (Note to the FBI agents searching my home: That's an authentic Native American cultural artifact, not a bong.)

* Makes it easier for law-enforcement to wiretap telephone and Internet communications for all criminal investigations, not just those related to terrorism. Whether you're e-mailing osama.b@alqaeda.org or nikki@coeddormcam.com, it's easier for the government to read your e-mail. So at least remember to use spell-check.

* Broadens FBI access to an individual's financial, medical, mental health and education records without the worry of obtaining a court order and without evidence of a crime. Just to save you some time, Mr. Ashcroft, my PIN number is ****.

For those obliged to find the silver lining in all of this, here's a couple of things. First, a lot of the bill's more intrusive provisions may be challenged in court. Second, much of the law's contents will expire in 2005. So if the government abuses its powers to excess, there may be enough public outcry to prevent the law from being renewed.

We're still the land of the free. Just don't make any sudden moves. *

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