Privacy vs. security as Patriot Act renewal looms

The war on terror continues and the US Patriot Act is once again up for renewal. Will anything change now that Osama Bin Laden is dead?

Initially the US Patriot Act was intended to be a temporary security measure following 9/11, but more and more it has been expanded and made almost permanent. It has been used well beyond terrorism; finding its way into criminal cases. Over the last decade law enforcement agencies have used the measure to evade civil liberties and crack down on Americans

Now that Osama Bin Laden has been found and killed can the US Congress return America to its pre-9/11 legal standards or has all been changed forever?

Seton Motley, the president of Less Government argued that the Patriot Act serves a specific purpose. That purpose is to target suspected terrorists and foreign nationals – not Americans. Since the target is foreigners the measure is not un-constitutional and should remain to target terrorism.

Citizens have rights that non-citizens do not,” he argued. “The Constitution does not apply to non-citizens.”

The Patriot Act however has gone beyond those parameters. The US government has used the provision to target Americans in criminal cases.

Motley argued that enforcement of US laws and the Constitution is needed to prevent the use of the Patriot Act against Americans.

Activist and documentary filmmaker Jason Bermas however argued that the Patriot Act is wrong, period.

Large portions of the Constitution and the Bill of Rights were completely eviscerated out in the open with the Patriot Act,” he said. “Civil Liberties have gone by the wayside in this country and we need to take them back.”

Bermas however argued that major corporations are the problem, not just government. Corporations, he alleged, are actively tracking citizens via advertizing to create consumer slaves under an American police state.

To the contrary, Motley argued the government is the problem, not companies.

I’m far less concerned with corporations giving me what I want via advertising than I am the government getting what they want through the telecommunications companies,” he said. “The Constitution is written to protect us from the government, not from Microsoft and not from AT&T.”

He argued that the government strong-arms corporations with regulation and rules, corporations do not possess the upper-hand under the Obama administration.

The government controls everything, by way of corporations and wants to control all aspects of life, including speech and the Internet alleged Bermas.

Meanwhile, The US State Department is investing millions of dollars into new technology aimed at tearing down Internet censorship abroad amid increase crack downs in places like China and Iran.

In an effort to beat Internet controls the US government is putting up $19 million up for a new project.

"We're responding with new tools. This is a cat-and-mouse game. We're trying to stay one step ahead of the cat," Michael Posner, the assistant secretary of state in charge of human rights said.

The new technology, he explained, would act like a "slingshot" by identifying countries that are censoring the web and then target their firewall.

"In effect, we're going to be redirecting information back in that governments have initially blocked," Posner said. "This can be done through email or posting it on blogs or RSS feeds or websites that the government hasn't figured out how to block."

Bermas argues this is more about controlling the Internet as a whole than freeing the Chinese from government control.

If the government has their way they’re going to get to decide who gets to say what,” he added. “They are run by the corporatists, the elitists.”

Both Bermas and Motley agreed that the US government should stay out of the information and communications business and all people to thrive independently and free of the government.

“The Internet has become a free-speech free-market zanadoo in America,” Motley said. “I don’t want the government involved.”

Aaron Swartz, the founder and executive director of Demand Progress argued the Obama administration once stood for repealing the Patriot Act and other policies that would have reduces government privacy infringements.

On the campaign trail US President Barack Obama critiqued George W. Bush for maintaining the Patriot act and extending the powers of the Presidency. Once elected, Obama did the same.

Civil liberties trump national security, he argued. The government cannot prove either that the Patriot Act protects Americans from possible threats.

We take risks, sometimes physical risks to protect [civil liberties],” he said, arguing civil liberties must be the priority, not security. “They [the government] have provided no evidence of the Patriot Act being successfully used to catch any terrorists.”