Pros and Cons of the Patriot Act Debated in Forum

In conjunction with the Cross-Cultural Center, ASUCI held a forum on the Patriot Act and invited several speakers to debate the act and its implications for civil rights on April 21.
Saul Martinez, ASUCI multicultural affairs commissioner and Arlene Galvan, a representative of the Cross-Cultural Center, organized the forum. Martinez explained why he and Galvan decided to organize the event.
‘The Patriot Act is a very serious issue that affects a lot of people in the community and we wanted to bring awareness to the campus,’ Martinez said.
The USA Patriot Act, short for the ‘Uniting and Strengthening America by Providing Appropriate Tools Required to Intercept and Obstruct Terrorism’ Act, was passed by Congress in October 2001 after the Sept. 11 attacks, which many blame on the lack of intelligence beforehand.
The act gives power to the government to search homes, wire-tap phones, monitor e-mail, Internet searches and use other such measures to investigate suspicions of terrorism without all the checks and balances that government agencies had to go through for approval prior to the act’s passage. The issue at hand is whether we, as citizens, should have to surrender certain civil liberties for improved national security.
Recently, there has been more controversy over the Patriot Act because some provisions of the bill will expire next year and President Bush is pushing to have those revisions renewed.
Pamela Kelley, visiting lecturer in political science, was one of the panelists in support of the Patriot Act. She spoke about the context in which the Patriot Act should be taken, reviewing past acts of terrorism, such as the terrorist attack on the World Trade Center in 1993. After reviewing the main purpose of the act, she concluded with her arguments in favor of the act.
‘Individual liberties are never absolute and must always be balanced against the means of national security and the common good,’ Kelley said.
Steve Kramer, a federal prosecutor for the FBI office in Los Angeles, was another panelist in support of the Patriot Act, saying that the act allows both sides of the FBI to cooperate together to fight terrorism.
‘What the Patriot Act allows us to do now is to allow the criminal agent and the intelligence agent to work hand-in-hand to stop terrorist acts,’ Kramer said.
The issue of civil liberties, such as the right to privacy, appeared to be the most controversial topic discussed between the speakers.
Angela Oh, a lecturer in the School of Social Sciences and founding member of the Multicultural Bar Alliance, was one of the panelists against the Patriot Act. Her main argument was that although many parts of the act are agreeable, there are certain provisions that are not because they violate the right to privacy.
She pointed out specific sections of the Patriot Act that are controversial, such as ‘Section 215: Access to records and other items under the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act.’
‘I don’t have anything to hide but I don’t want the government being able to have unfettered authority. It’s a dangerous direction for us to take as a nation,’ Oh said.
Stephen Rohde, a constitutional lawyer and former president of the American Civil Liberties Union of Southern California, was another panelist against the Patriot Act. He argued that the U.S. government has made mistakes in the past such the internment of Japanese-Americans during World War II and McCarthyism in the 1950s, events that should lead Americans to question whether the Patriot Act is another mistake.
‘We cannot blindly trust our government,’ Rohde said. ‘Whenever people blindly trust their government, they go down the wrong road.’
Although some students held the same opinions as they had before the debate regarding the Patriot Act and are still in favor of it, some are considering the knowledge of the act that they acquired from the debate.
After listening to the panelists, Ivan Chen, a first-year criminology, law and society major, holds an even stronger opinion in support of the Patriot Act.
‘My view has changed to the point where I’m going to extend the Patriot Act even more because I believe we really do need it even more,’ Chen said.
Ricky Macapinlac, a first-year ICS major, learned that some provisions of the act are acceptable.
‘Prior to this debate, I was pretty much against the act and in support of its removal and I still agree that the statutes in question do need to be changed, but I have a more moderate view of it now,’ Macapinlac said.
Brian Zuetel, a third-year political science major and president of the College Republicans, enjoyed the event and acknowledged that it is difficult to take a definitive stance on the issue.
‘I still am pro-Patriot, but I enjoyed hearing what the other side had to say about it, and it’s something that I’ll think about for a while to consider the arguments that they offered,’ Zuetel said.