When Barack Obama took over the reigns from George W. Bush, he was expected to make significant changes to the policy framework. But already into the second year of his Presidency, it is fair to say that Obama’s performance has fallen short of expectations. On the negative side, the ‘surge’ in military operations in Afghanistan and the impotence to bring stability to Iraq would remain his most obvious failures. This is particularly stark when seen in the backdrop of the Nobel Prize for Peace awarded to him early in his Presidency. On the positive side, the President and his party were instrumental in passing the Healthcare Reform Bill, although some would argue that it doesn’t redress fundamental flaws in the prevailing healthcare system. Obama could have added to his achievements as President by dismantling the PATRIOT Act promoted and signed by Bush in the immediate aftermath of September 11, 2001 attacks. But unfortunately, he has only strenthened its provisions and intensified its application. The rest of this essay will lay out the reasons why Barack Obama should discontinue his predecessor’s electronic surveillance policies that were a part of the USA PATRIOT Act. Further, he should make attempts to totally discontinue this Act, which has undermined civil liberties and rights for privacy for the citizens.
The Bush Adminstration acted opportunistically in the wake of September 11, 2001, to impose restrictions and take away civil liberties of American citizens. At the time of its proposal, the public opinion was not unfavorable to the legislation, as the general public was gripped in an atmosphere of fear and insecurity. But seen retrospectively and when studied in detail, the PATRIOT Act translates into one grand reactionary scheme to take away hard-won civilian rights. The Obama Administration has not only continued with surveillance programs initiated by Bush, but has tried to make itself immune from legal challenges. For example,
“The Obama Administration goes two steps further than Bush did, and claims that the US PATRIOT Act also renders the U.S. immune from suit under the two remaining key federal surveillance laws: the Wiretap Act and the Stored Communications Act. Essentially, the Obama Adminstration has claimed that the government cannot be held accountable for illegal surveillance under any federal statutes.” (Jones, 2009)
One of the strongest arguments for retracting the PATRIOT Act is that it has proven ineffective in reducing terror threat both within and without the United States. In the nine years since its enactment, the country and the world are no closer to preventing terrorist acts as they were previously. The terror strikes in London, Madrid and Bali will serve as testaments to this observation. The worsening situation in Iraq and Afghanistan will further validate this argument. An empirical study of the last nine years shows that the provisions for electronic monitoring of citizens have done very little to reduce the threat of terror. If anything, some of the draconian provisions under the PATRIOT Act has only increased disgruntlement among citizens and alienated innocent foreign tourists. So the Obama Administration should heed to popular unrest about this situation and repeal the act altogether.
In order for the Obama Adminstration to not repeat mistakes made before, a study of the United States history is essential. During the Second World War, a similar situation arose when Japan was at war with the United States. At that time, many Japanese Americans were rounded up and detained in make-shift jails, on grounds that they ‘could’ be Japanese spies, and that their loyalties are questionable. This authoritation measure met with such widespread condemnation that even the then British Prime Minister Winston Churchill vehemently and passionately expressed his displeasure. He stated that detaining civilians without legitimate arrest warrants was a grave breach of basic human rights. Applying the analogy to the present situation, the harassment felt by Muslim Americans in the guise of ‘random’ interviews, frisks, surveillence and outright detainment without warrant also comprises a breach of basic human rights. Hence Barack Obama should abandon the PATRIOT Act and revive the principles of freedom and fairness upon which the country is founded.
President Obama should discontinue with the electronic monitoring program in particular and the broader PATRIOT Act in general because the executive powers provided in them are in contradiction to the letter and spirit of the constitution. Once President Obama took his oath of office to “preserve, protect and defend the constitution”, he is implicitly obliged to “obey the Constitution and respect the freedoms that the Constitution guarantees to all Americans. Among the provisions of the Constitution that every government official, from the president on down, is bound to obey is the Fourth Amendment, which prohibits the government from conducting ‘unreasonable searches and seizures’ on U.S. Citizens.” (Sanders, 2010) By acting against the constitution, President Obama has betrayed the trust placed on his shoulders by American voters. During the election campaign of 2008, Barack Obama ran on such catch-words as ‘hope’ and ‘change’. Now that the general public have seen the emptiness of those words, they will be cautious next time. Indeed, if he decides to re-run for Presidency two years down the line, he needs to prove that he follows democratic mandates.
Tim Jones, April 7th, 2009, In Warrantless Wiretapping Case, Obama DOJ’s New Arguments Are Worse Than Bush’s, retrieved from <http://www.eff.org/deeplinks/2009/04/obama-doj-worse-than-bush>
Skeeter Sanders, April 5, 2010, Why Is Obama Continuing Bush’s Unconstitutional Surveillance?, retrieved from <http://www.nowpublic.com/world/why-obama-continuing-bushs-unconstitutional-surveillance>
Frontline (2007-01-09). “Spying on the Home Front” – Interview with Mark Klein”. Public Broadcasting System. http://www.pbs.org/wgbh/pages/frontline/homefront/interviews/klein.html. Retrieved 2007-08-15.