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A nation of spies? Locals question the USA Patriot Act

By: Jenifer Gee Journal Staff Writer
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Imagine you're getting ready to board an airplane and you're forbidden from boarding because you've been labeled a terror threat. This situation could occur at any time and for something as small as what you've written in an e-mail. That was the scenario Attorney William Bergen described at an Auburn Area Democratic Club meeting Thursday night. Bergen's presentation, An excuse to snoop: how the Patriot Act created a nation of spies, drew a crowd of about 20. The club invited Bergen because of his experience with civil liberties cases. He brought the first successful civil rights case against the Rampart Division of the Los Angeles Police Department. He told attendees private information in medical records, employment files, e-mails and library records can be examined without a warrant, subpoena or notice to the person. How did this nation in 2001 become so terrified that within six weeks of the attacks on the United States the government passed “ with no opposition “ an attack on the First Amendment? Bergen said. His presentation was eye-opening to some while others said it was nothing they didn't already know. It's a good example of how the Bush administration is screwing up America by violating American's rights, said Joe Marman, a 52-year-old Auburn resident. Just as passionately as some argue the Patriot Act has stripped Americans of their freedoms, proponents say the law has safely and fairly protected citizens. The United States Patriot Act is the No. 1 reason why we have not been attacked on our homeland in the last six years, said Major Eric Egland. Egland is a career military intelligence officer and candidate for U.S. Congress. He said he is confident law enforcement and intelligence personnel have not abused the acts' provisions. Other than some bureaucratic errors, people have a hard time pointing to any real abuse, Egland said. Tom Hudson, Placer County Republican Party chairman, said he has yet to see substantial evidence the Patriot Act has unfairly violated citizens' rights. Frankly, a lot of people upset with the Patriot Act are not dealing with things in the Patriot Act, Hudson said. For example, he said some are opposed to the roving wiretaps provision. Hudson said the amendment to wire-tapping law was first applied to drug dealers in 2001. The amendment allowed law enforcement to bypass the 72-hour waiting period to get a warrant to tap a phone. In the Patriot Act, the law was extended to include suspected terrorists. People have made wild accusations that aren't really tied down to anything specific in the law and we need to start calling them on that, Hudson said. It's fine to be opposed, but on good reason. You need to identify where it is in the Patriot Act. Bergen identified sections 215, 218 and others to show documentary support of his argument. Many of the provision of the act changed the way Americans review their rights, Bergen said. For another meeting attendee, the technical reasons for or against the Patriot Act don't change how guarded she feels when speaking in public these days. If you say something that disagrees with a Republican, you can be labeled a security risk, said Diana Alrich, 65, of Auburn. I feel careful about what I say. It just has a chilling effect when I talk in public. I feel like I have no privacy.