This widely reported AP articles details Al Gore’s speech in which he rallied against the USA PATRIOT act and said that the Bush Administration has used the attacks as an excuse to deploy a “big-brother”-style government.
“In my opinion, it makes no more sense to launch an assault on our civil liberties as the best way to get at terrorists than it did to launch an invasion of Iraq as the best way to get at Osama bin Laden,” Gore said. (You can find text and video of Gore’s speech here.)
Now, I agree with Gore here, but several activists in the privacy community have said that this is really a case of the pot calling the kettle black. Mike Stollenwerk, Advisor to the Privacy Rights Clearinghouse, notes that it was the Clinton/Gore administration whose Airline Security commission recommended and implemented domestic airline ID checks and the CAPPS I program back in 1995.
It is very easy to be pro-privacy when you are not in power, Mr. Gore. It is much harder to defend the interests of privacy when you are being held accountable for security lapses. Greater domestic surveillance and spying probably wouldn’t have prevented 9/11, but it is very difficult to make that argument when the public is demanding that the government “do something.” Many of the “security” measures adopted after 9/11 didn’t actually improve security, but instead improved the appearance of security. That was their purpose – to make people think that the government was doing something.
Of course, the PATRIOT act is a different matter entirely. That massive bill was a huge wish-list that the Department of Justice and the FBI had been putting together for years. In the aftermath of 9/11 they saw their chance to have the whole thing put through and adopted with very little debate. And we are now living with the consequences.
And things may be much worse than they seem. Last semester, I was taking a course in military intelligence at Harvard. One of the speakers said “has anybody here read the PATRIOT Act?” Hands went up. “Well, you haven’t,” he said. “You haven’t read the classified codicils.”