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Feb 23 2005

The home of the brave? Or the fearful?

I have done the people of Ohio an injustice. In a previous posting, I said that sometimes it seems to me that there is no half-baked idea that originates anywhere in the known universe that does not quickly find influential adherents anxious to institutionalize it in Ohio.

This was a slur on the people of Ohio implying as it does that we are merely followers. It appears that influential Ohio politicians are quite capable of coming up with original half-baked ideas all on their own. Evidence of this comes from the introduction of Ohio Senate Bill 9 that seeks to expand the provisions of the USA PATRIOT Act (which is already a very disturbing law) and apply these extensions to the people of Ohio.

Jeffrey M. Gamso, Legal Director of the ACLU of Ohio stated the case against the Ohio bill in his testimony before the Ohio’s Senate Judiciary Committee:

“The ACLU of Ohio opposes many of the provisions of S.B. 9. The proposed legislation makes criminal what is already a crime (and may criminalize obedience to the law); requires that people incriminate themselves and in some cases makes criminal their failure to do so; provides sweeping powers to law enforcement to demand identification from wholly innocent persons. It does all that while doing remarkably little to make us either safer or more secure. Like the USA PATRIOT Act, S.B. 9 effects a needless expansion of wide-ranging police powers which threatens the very rights and freedoms that we are struggling to protect.

There are five broad categories of problematic bad legislation tied together in S.B. 9: (1) Legislation which simply duplicates already existing federal law; (2) legislation which provides government with broad powers to investigate and prosecute even wholly innocent activity; (3) legislation which prohibits possession of that which may be misused rather than the misuse itself; (4) legislation which attempts to restrain the people of Ohio from expressing their disapproval of the actions of the government, and (5) legislation which forces people to incriminate themselves. In addition, S.B. 9 may require, in some circumstances, government employees actually to violate existing law – and does so without shielding them from the consequences of such a violation.�

As a proud card-carrying member of many years of the American Civil Liberties Union, I have major concerns with the rapid encroachment of civil liberties in this country under the guise of fighting terrorism.

What amazes me is that so many people are so scared of the possibility of potential terrorist acts that they are willing to let politicians dismantle even the provisions of the Bill of Rights. It is a disturbing feature of modern American political life that people can be so easily terrified that they so surrender without a fight what they should hold most dear. It seems like people are unable to make judgments about how safe is safe enough.

One way to make such a comparison is to compare the probabilities of two scenarios. On the one hand, there is the probability that we are harmed by some terrorist activity that this law would have prevented if had been enacted. The other is the probability that this law once enacted, instead of being used to protect us, is used against innocent people. Which do you think is more likely?

For me this is a no-brainer. The chances of being the victim of a terrorist attack are very small. Yet, if history is any judge, the chances that laws introduced under the guise of protecting us from ‘outsiders’ will eventually be used against us instead is relatively much higher.

So we should oppose this legislation and also seek to sustain the sunset provisions of the USA PATRIOT Act when they fall due at the end of this year.

To find out what you can do, go here.