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Panelists discuss Patriot Act at SMC

Nicole Zook | Friday, February 27, 2004

The atmosphere was thick Thursday night at the panel discussion of the 2001 U.S. Patriot Act, held at the Stapleton Lounge in Saint Mary’s LeMans Hall.

That was just the way the four panelists wanted it to be.

“It does affect normal, everyday people when the atmosphere [allows for] giving up civil liberties for safety,” speaker Anita Morse said.

Panelist Doug Archer concurred.

“It chills the air in which we exercise our first amendment rights,” Archer said. “It’s a chilling of the atmosphere that allows for mutual understanding.”

Morse, a lawyer, librarian and research analyst for Saint Mary’s, and Archer, a reference and peace studies librarian at the Hesburgh Library, were joined by South Bend lawyer William L. Wilson and Isis Nusair, a Center for Women’s Intercultural Leadership fellow.

Wilson, who is the previous president of the Indiana Civil Liberties Union, gave an abbreviated history of the groundwork behind the Patriot Act. He labeled it “a misnomer, if there ever was one.”

The Patriot Act (or Providing Appropriate Tools Required to Intercept and Obstruct Terrorism) was developed after Sept. 11 to enhance domestic security and surveillance, protect the borders better and remove barriers to investigate terrorism, among other things.

Now, however, it can be used to enter the lives of everyday Americans.

Under the act, government officials may search homes and obtain lists of purchases, communications, financial and medical records and even library records without informing the person they are investigating.

“It made all of your electronic communications available to the government on the same level that they can get a pen register or a track and trace,” Morse said.

“If I can track and trace all of your Internet information, I have access to everything you have looked at.”

This includes records for all foreign students, Nusair said. A Palestinian citizen of Israel, she gave an outside view of the act.

“It’s the step by step process that encroaches on your private and your public life,” she said.

The panelists agreed that the act has positive attributes, in its ability to better protect against money laundering and the implemented information sharing between branches of investigation such as the FBI and CIA.

Also, Wilson said discussion of civil liberties is always positive.

“We all ought to be talking about it, in the dining hall, around the dinner table,” he said. “Where do we draw the line?”