Slowing Down the Avalanche

Washington Post: Proposed Anti-Terrorism Laws Draw Tough Questions . They also complained that the administration is trying to force the package through Congress without giving lawmakers time to adequately digest proposals that could have serious, unforeseen consequences for rights that Americans now take for granted.

In the superheated political aftermath of the worst terrorist attack in world history, the United States Congress is doing something rare — thinking hard before acting. Legislators are refusing, for the moment, to be stampeded into the most overwhelming abridgement of civil liberties in generations.

In the name of stopping terrorism, law enforcement is pushing a wish list of measures, many of which have nothing to do with terrorism — unless you define all possible crime, and all suspects, as terrorists. This vast overreaching should frighten law-abiding people, because the potential for abuse is overwhelming.

Do you trust the police? You should. The vast majority of people in law enforcement are honorable and honest. They want to protect us and punish wrongdoers.

But sometimes the wrongdoers are police, who wreck the lives of innocent people. The reality is that few bad cops ever get punished for their own wrongdoing. Giving them an array of new powers to invade the lives of innocent people is an absolute invitation for abuse. This is why we have a Bill of Rights, and why we need to hold onto what’s left of it.

If you think this is all alarmist, consider several elements of this legislation. The Bush administration wants information obtained illegally by foreign intelligence and law enforcement services to be legal evidence in U.S. courts. What a cynical end run around the U.S. Constitution. There’s also a provision that could lead to a life sentence for even minor computer hacking. And those are just two of the provisions, among many.

Congress may still pass this legislation. Certainly, another terrorist attack in the immediate future would cause panicky lawmakers to give law enforcement every power it wants. But maybe, just maybe, enough people are thinking hard enough about the consequences of their actions to prevent America from destroying the freedoms that make it a beacon for the world.


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