National security can't cost people their civil liberties

Posted: Sunday, May 18, 2003

When the Kenai Peninsula Borough Assembly this week considers a resolution seeking a review of possible changes to federal anti-terrorism laws, it will join a growing number of local and state governments that also have questioned whether certain security measures infringe on people's rights.

More than 100 communities and one state Hawaii have condemned anti-terrorism laws as giving the federal government too much power, according to the Bill of Rights Defense Committee, based in Northampton, Mass.

The Alaska House of Representatives also has passed a resolution asking the federal government to change those parts of the USA PATRIOT Act, an acronym for "Uniting and Strengthening America by Providing Appropriate Tools Required to Intercept and Obstruct Terrorism," that may infringe on civil liberties. The resolution, which was approved last week, also tells state agencies they should not help the federal government with investigations that could violate people's rights unless they have reason to suspect criminal activity.

Even federal officials are questioning portions of the USA PATRIOT Act.

Earlier this month Alaska Congressman Don Young said he likely would co-sponsor a bill that once again would make it harder for federal law enforcement agencies to see the records of library and bookstore patrons. And U.S. Sen. Lisa Murkowski in a visit to the Kenai Peninsula in April said a review of anti-terrorism laws is appropriate.

"We need to be sure that our response is still legitimate. ... There is a balance that needs to be had here to providing the necessary security for Americans within our borders. But we can't push beyond what is appropriate. We have to respect the civil liberties that we have," she said in an interview with the Clarion.

While the PATRIOT Act and other anti-terrorism measures approved in the wake of the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks may have been well-intentioned, it also appears they may be too broad and over-reaching.

That many now are questioning the provisions of such laws is a healthy sign. It will be a sad day indeed when Americans choose to sacrifice their individual rights for national security measures that may or may not be effective.

While such a discussion may seem out of the purview of the borough assembly and other local governments, it is not. On the contrary, it shows a desire to protect citizens' individual liberties and not rubber stamp anything and everything that comes from higher powers.

The measure being considered by the borough assembly denounces terrorism and supports those who defend the country against terrorism, including those in the nation's armed forces; federal, state and local law enforcement officers, firefighters and health care professionals. There is not a word in it that can be construed as unpatriotic or un-American.

At its core is the protection of all people's civil liberties. After all, what is the point of security without freedom?

In the 18 months since the 2001 terrorist attacks and the ensuing war on terrorism, Americans have had lots of time to reflect on what their freedom means and how to balance the sometimes competing natures of liberty and security. The resolution before the borough assembly Tuesday night and the similar debates in communities across the country is powerful evidence that Americans value their freedom above any false notion of security.

Few can pretend to be experts on the anti-terrorism measures passed in the wake of Sept. 11, 2001. We certainly can't. Enough questions have been raised about the USA PATRIOT Act and other measures, however, that it is appropriate for state and local governments, including the Kenai Peninsula Borough Assembly, to ask for them to be reviewed and changed in order to protect those rights guaranteed by the U.S. Constitution and the Alaska Constitution. Our hope is Alaska's congressional delegation would take the lead in seeking the review in the nation's capital.

As Benjamin Franklin wrote in 1759: "They that can give up essential liberty to obtain a little temporary safety deserve neither liberty nor safety."

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