January 26, 2005

I'VE NEVER BEEN A FAN of the Patriot Act, though I have to admit that its operations so far haven't proven as dire as I feared. But this column by Walter Williams is worth reading, and I agree with this suggestion:

Government officials have always wanted open access to our financial records; the war against terrorism gives them the cover to do so. Here's what might be proof: How about an amendment to the Patriot Act whereby any information gathered under its provisions cannot be used in a court of law unless it can be tied to terrorist activity? I'm guessing that few politicians and law enforcement authorities would agree to such an amendment.

Most vital to the conduct of any war, including a war on terrorism, is a vibrant, flexible economy. There's a possibility that massive volumes of security regulations and massive security expenditures can weaken our economy and thereby threaten national security. Al-Qaeda type terrorism is not our only national security threat either now or in the future. Keep in mind it was our productive capacity that ultimately won the Cold War.

I think that all of these special "terrorism" provisions -- many of which have already been invoked by prosecutors in mundane criminal cases -- should in fact be limited to cases involving terrorism, and I think that government officials who abuse their authority ought to be subject to punishment, and to lawsuits. And it's very hard for me to take "antiterrorism" legislation lacking such safeguards seriously.