Editorial: Thought Police are on the prowl

Homeland security has been a hot topic of discussion ever since Sept. 11, and it seems that each time the phrase is brought up it spells doom for civil liberties.

That notion was furthered earlier this week, when the Senate approved the Homeland Security Bill and effectively established what could become the beginnings of an American police state.

This new legislation carries broad, sweeping powers that subscribe to the rhetoric that in order to achieve safety, freedom must be sacrificed. With the War on Terror now raging well into its second year, the emphasis has shifted from dropping bombs on Afghanistan to cataloguing the activities, habits, beliefs and lives of each American in a campaign designed to convince citizens that by waiving their privacy, they have nothing to fear from terrorists.

It’s true that these initiatives will aid in the government’s search for persons who would seek to commit acts of terror against the nation. However, they would do so at the expense of everything the country was founded upon.

A quick look through some of the plans to thwart terrorism reveals what a high price tag the government has placed upon its citizens to effectively fight terror. At the heart of this matter is the future of the Freedom of Information Act, which the legislation threatens to jeopardize by making it easier for officials to reject requests. Under the legislation, for example, a nuclear power plant and a government agency would be able to deny access to information about security risks posed by various groups seeking to do harm.

Also inaccessible under the legislation is crucial government infrastructure information, a term that can be defined so broadly that it encompasses just about anything. Additionally, federal employees who do release such information can face prison time. By denying people access to such materials, the gatekeepers of our freedom – the news media and various watchdog groups – are unable to do their jobs, making the truth behind congressional actions impossible to discern.

That is just the tip of the iceberg, however. The Defense Department, for example, is now proposing a “Total Information Awareness” program that would create a vast federal database of information on millions of individuals. (Coincidentally, the information will be gathered thanks to a ruling on the Patriot Act that will relax the use of wiretaps.) Therefore, any citizen can be spied upon at any time under the guise of searching for terrorists. It will come as a surprise to no one familiar with U.S. policy in Central America during the 1970s and ’80s that John Poindexter, a key player in the Iran-Contra Affair, is behind this program.

Yes, domestic terror is a serious problem today. But the methods being used by our government to fight it are sickening in their disregard for our nation’s ideals. Stripping our rights for the sake of security is not only ineffective, it is un-American. We must remember to fight for these liberties against terrorists, not the other way around.