"They who would give up an essential liberty for temporary security, deserve neither liberty or security."
- Benjamin Franklin
In the wake of September 11th, 2001, national security quickly became the most visible issue for the federal government to wrestle with. Our collective safety had been threatened by a new threat on our soil, people were scared (and rightfully so) and a new sense of security was sought. This reaction ultimately led to the "War on Terror," a response that saw the United States quickly increase its security capabilities domestically and begin its operations in Afghanistan.
CC Image Courtesy of amber.kennedy on Flickr
Unfortunately, these fevered national security concerns directly led to our civil liberties being neglected. The best example of this is the USA PATRIOT Act, an Act of Congress signed into law by President Bush on October 26th, 2001. This act removed many restrictions on law enforcement agencies regarding their scope and capabilities. Following its passing, the Patriot Act authorized the use of roving wiretaps, searches without notification (called "sneak and peek" searches), the use national security letters (an administrative subpoena without judicial oversight), and indefinite detention for immigrants who the Attorney General suspects "may" cause a terrorist attack. Thankfully, some of these provisions have since been ruled unconstitutional with our help.
This was not the first time that the government managed to forget about civil liberties in an atmosphere of conflict. During the Civil War, President Lincoln suspended habeas corpus. In the wake of WWI, Attorney General Alexander Mitchell Palmer tried to have radical leftists deported (this event actually inspired the creation of the ACLU!). And during WWII, President Roosevelt authorized the creation of internment camps for Japanese-Americans and Japanese immigrants.
Going forward, the ACLU is dedicated to fighting for civil liberties regardless of America's national security atmosphere. Simply because we have security threats domestically or abroad does not mean that our Constitutional rights cease to exist.