Civil liberties at risk?
Abdul Aziz has a fear. His fear is that because of the Sept. 11 attacks, his adopted country will lose the freedoms he has come to treasure.
He is particularly concerned about the Bush administration's new Terrorist Information Protection System, or TIPS. At first glance, the program seems innocuous enough -- citizens are encouraged to act as extra eyes and ears for law enforcement and report anything suspicious via a special telephone hotline. But the program is so vaguely defined that civil liberty advocates say the potential for abuse is huge.
"Once you start this type of program there is no end to it," Aziz warned. "In a few months time, it could escalate further."
Also worrisome to many is the USA Patriot Act, passed by Congress in five days, which grants to the U.S. Justice Department sweeping new powers to monitor phone conversations, Internet usage, business transactions and library records. Some communities, such as Denver, have refused to implement parts of the act; meantime, civil liberties groups have mounted legal challenges.
Aziz [in photo above left], a professor of finance at Humboldt State University, is a U.S. citizen who was born in Pakistan 67 years ago. He said that "something which I cherish in the U.S. is the freedom to live. I do not want my country to go back on those things which I cherish."
Gayle Olson-Raymer, a historian of terrorism at Humboldt State, also is anxious. Referring to the TIPS program, she postulated the following scenario: A UPS deliveryman comes to her door. As she signs the paperwork for the package, the deliveryman looks around at her living room, which is filled with books and posters having to do with Islamic terrorism. "Would that make me a candidate for a report to the FBI? Would that look suspicious to someone? I don't know."
Being a historian, Olson-Raymer is quick to point out that what's taken place in the wake of Sept. 11 has occurred before in this country, beginning with the Alien and Sedition Acts of 1798, which violated the U.S. Constitution only 11 years after it was created. She said our time is shaping up to be much like the McCarthy era of the 1950s, when, at the height of the Cold War, Communists were believed to have infiltrated every level of American society. "In times of crisis, policymakers have always diminished our civil liberties," Olson-Raymer said.
John Fullerton, a certified public accountant in Eureka, expressed support for President Bush's response to the Sept. 11 attacks, in particular the decision to go after the Taliban and Osama bin Laden with military force. "I think [the president's] doing a terrific job in Afghanistan," Fullerton said.
But Fullerton expressed concern about the domestic situation. "I think there's a real danger that some people in authority will overreact and we might lose some of the freedoms that are even more important than our security.
"It's changed our whole country," Fullerton added, referring to the Sept. 11 attacks. "In ways that are not good."
Jerry Partain, a retired Humboldt State professor and the former head of the California Department of Forestry and Fire Protection, had a different perspective. He said that the checks and balances inherent in the American political system would prevent any undue erosion of civil liberties.
"I believe in our judicial system," Partain said. "I think there's enough control there to continue to provide the liberties that we appreciate."
-- Keith Easthouse
Comments? E-mail the Journal: email@example.com
© Copyright 2002, North Coast Journal, Inc.