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Arrested liberties? In the wake of the terrorist attacks on New York and Washington, government proposals for increased surveillance to disrupt terrorist networks have collided with some of America's most cherished civil liberties. How far should our nation go in trading personal freedoms for safety? (National).

In the new America born on September 11, soldiers with automatic weapons stand guard at airports, while F-16 fighter jets thread the skies for rogue aircraft. Postal workers take special precautions, fearing deadly anthrax bacteria in letters and packages. Bags are routinely searched at public buildings; backpacks are forbidden at ballparks, and everywhere, it seems, armed guards ask for ID.

Caught off-guard by a terrorist attack on home soil, Americans have developed a fierce new desire for security. But this elemental human emotion is colliding with several long-held American principles about civil liberties--the rights guaranteed by the U.S. Constitution, such as freedom of speech, freedom of the press, and freedom from unwarranted government intrusion into private life.

"Hard times for civil liberties tend to come at very hard times for the country," says Floyd Abrams, a lawyer specializing in First Amendment issues at Cahill Gordon & Reindel in New York City. "When we feel threatened, when we feel at peril, [constitutional] values are sometimes subordinated to other interests."

The civil liberties landscape began to change within days of the attacks on New York and Washington, D.C. New counter-terrorism steps involve some of the most sweeping expansions of government authority in decades. Among the changes: new government power to tap phones and monitor e-mail, and an increase in the amount of time immigrants can be held under arrest without being charged with a crime.

The media's traditional role of questioning government decisions has a}so been reshaped. Two newspaper columnists lost their jobs after criticizing President George W. Bush in the weeks after the attack. And when Bill Maher, host of ABC's Politically Incorrect talk show, made critical comments about the U.S., he lost two major advertisers and prompted White House press secretary Ari Fleischer to issue a blunt warning: "The reminder is to all Americans that they need to watch what they say, watch what they do, and this is not a time for remarks like that."

Though Fleischer later backed away from those comments, advocates for civil liberties say they are worried. They paint a dark picture of a future America where criticism of the government is frowned upon, computers scan e-mails for suspicious words, thousands of cameras monitor public spaces, and Americans are required to carry national identity cards containing vital personal information. The technological pieces are already available.


But it hasn't happened yet. Congress, citing civil liberties concerns, balked at several parts of a plan proposed by Attorney General John Ashcroft for expanded government powers to investigate terrorists.

"This is about how we equip our anti-espionage, counterterrorism agencies with the tools they want," says Representative Dick Armey, the House majority leader and a conservative Republican, "while we still preserve the most fundamental thing, which is the civil liberties of the American people."

The Bush administration's proposal to allow immigrants to be arrested and held indefinitely without charges prompted the most severe reaction in Congress. Currently, U.S. citizens and immigrants are protected by the Constitution and a long history of court cases that allow the government to hold suspects for only brief periods of time. A coalition of Republicans and Democrats outgunned the White House on this point. The new antiterrorism measures will limit authorities to holding immigrants no longer than a week without charges.


Democratic Senator Patrick Leahy of Vermont says he's concerned that such sweeping governmental powers could lead to a repeat of what happened in the opening months of World War II, when 120,000 Japanese-Americans were 'held in detention camps (see "Bias of War," page 14). "I don't think we need to talk about indefinite detention," says Leahy.

Members of Congress have agreed to the Bush administration's plan to expand wiretap powers, though some members of Congress and civil liberty proponents worry the new rules could lead to abuses. Under the old rules, police had to present a judge with evidence of wrongdoing to receive permission to monitor each separate phone or electronic device a suspect used. The new rules allow police to tap any device used by a suspect, as long as a judge approves the wiretap.

Wiretapping is a sensitive issue because in the past the U.S. government has leaked information obtained from wiretaps to harm political opponents. Former FBI Director J. Edgar Hoover wiretapped the phones of Rev. Martin Luther King Jr., the civil rights leader, during the 1960s.

"There are a lot of [congressional] members that are acutely aware of the fact that the agencies don't always exercise due diligence in the way they handle information," Armey says.


Civil libertarians worry that press freedom will also be limited in a newly security-conscious America. The Supreme Court has acknowledged that the government has the power to stop the media from releasing sensitive information, such as troop movements, that could endanger U.S. lives. Veteran journalists, however, point out that the press has traditionally cooperated with the government during times of war or national emergency.

But some issues lie in a gray area. When the White House asked news broadcasters not to air a videotaped statement by terrorist leader Osama bin Laden, many news outlets promptly agreed. White House officials said the statements were propaganda and that bin Laden might be signaling to his followers in secret gestures in the broadcasts.

Civil libertarians objected, saying the Bush administration had overstepped its bounds. They pointed out that bin Laden's videotaped messages would be easily available over the Internet regardless of broadcast restrictions. They also noted that during World War II, public speeches by Adolf Hitler were routinely shown in newsreels at movie theaters--the equivalent of television news back then.

In the days after the attacks, a New York Times/CBS News poll found that 8 of 10 Americans questioned would willingly trade some personal freedoms for greater security. But how far should a society go in preserving safety? In Great Britain, the government began installing cameras in many public places following a series of terrorist attacks by the Irish Republican Army, a Roman Catholic group intent on ending British rule in Northern Ireland.

In America, cameras are now used to monitor electronic cash machines and convenience stores, and even to photograph red-light runners at intersections. The British system involves police monitoring of live video and constant comparisons with images in a computer database of known terrorists. A decade after installing the nationwide camera system, the average Briton is photographed 300 times a day as he or she moves about in public. Critics call the camera network profoundly intrusive and argue that it has done little to help catch terrorists. While not disagreeing, proponents say the cameras have helped lower other crimes dramatically.


The U.S. government might also look to other technologies to help law enforcement in the fight against terrorism. The FBI already has the technology for an Internet wiretap system, originally called Carnivore, that can scan millions of e-mails for suspicious words, but lawmakers have so far prohibited its use. The government's new anti-terrorism package will permit the scanning of the "to:" and "from:" fields in e-mails. Also on the way, security experts say, is the consideration of national electronic identification cards containing detailed information about those they are issued to. These ID cards could, in theory, contain financial histories, criminal backgrounds, and medical records; they could even allow the government to trace a citizen's whereabouts, monitor buying habits, and track his or her tendency to exceed the speed limit. Critics say these ID cards, combined with other measures, could usher in an unprecedented era of surveillance and suspicion in the U.S.

Civil libertarians see a major battle ahead, with an anxious public more than willing to trade some freedoms for greater safety.

"It is a profound affront to be metered and measured," says Bruce Ackerman, a law professor at Yale University. "And that is, I think, the debate of the future."



NESIM SEREQUEBERHAN, 15, OF SILVER Spring, Maryland, and Laura Westbrook, 16, of St. Louis, Missouri, have this in common: they are strong opponents of racial profiling--the police practice of targeting members of minority groups for extra surveillance and searches solely on the basis of their race or ethnicity.

Nesim, an American citizen whose mother is Palestinian and whose father is Eritrean, has watched with concern as people of Arab and South Asian background are increasingly scrutinized at security checkpoints following the terrorist attacks on New York and Washington. "I think it's really stupid," he says. "You can't judge a whole race on the basis of one person's actions."

Laura, an African-American who lives in an affluent, predominantly white neighborhood, says she's constantly monitored by police. "Cops tend to treat me differently," she says. Since the attacks, she tirelessly urges friends not to blame Arab-Americans for the violence.

Before September 11, many Americans agreed with Nesim and Laura about racial profiling, but there's been a turnaround since then. A recent poll found that 58 percent of Americans backed more intensive security checks for Arabs--even U.S. citizens. Some experts now say racial profiling has gotten a new lease on life.

"The events of September 11 are going to make it more difficult to get rid of racial profiling, both at the street level--what police actually do--and at the formal level of the courts," says Randall L. Kennedy, a Harvard law professor.

Racial profiling first came to public notice in New Jersey during the early 1990s when critics accused the state police of stopping African-Americans and other minorities in larger numbers in order to conduct drug searches. Many police departments around the country are also accused of the practice.

Critics say such selective enforcement violates the Constitution's guarantee that the law will be applied equally, but exactly what the Constitution permits and doesn't permit remains fuzzy. No state or federal laws specifically prohibit the practice, and the Supreme Court has never ruled on the issue.

Opponents insist that racial profiling is "anathema to our system," as civil rights lawyer Richard D. Emery says. But others maintain that the survival of the country is at stake, so investigators need extra powers.

"In times of war, too far is never too far," says Herman Badillo, a Latino politician in New York City. "The first thing is to protect the population, and you cannot worry about people being concerned about being racially profiled."

--Peter Vilbig

Arrested Liberites?

FOCUS: Must Americans Sacrifice Civil Liberties in the Fight Against Terrorism?


To help students understand why experts on civil rights fear that in the effort to defend Americans from terrorism, authorities may violate civil liberties.

Discussion Questions:

* Which civil liberties, if any, would you be willing to give up to guard against terrorism?

* What do you think concerned White House press secretary Ari Fleischer when he responded to criticism of President Bush by warning that Americans "need to watch what they say, watch what they do"?

* Do you agree with Yale professor Bruce Ackerman that "It is a profound affront to be metered and measured"?


Debate: Note attorney Floyd Abrams's observation that in times of peril, constitutional values may be "subordinated to other interests." Have students take sides on these questions: Does the need to fight terrorism justify (a) curbs on free speech and the press; (b) police searches without warrants; (c) incarcerating suspected immigrants indefinitely?

Students' arguments should offer specifics. Examples: "Criticizing the government could hurt morale by undermining faith in the military and elected officials." "Censorship would block the free exchange of ideas, thus hobbling the anti-terror fight."

Critical Thinking: Some students may see short-term value in curbing rights during emergencies. Remind them that President Bush says the fight against terrorism will be a long one. What dangers to freedom may emerge if, during a years-long fight against terrorism, government restricts criticism, wiretaps citizens, and incarcerates suspects indefinitely? Would such restrictions become the norm? How would developments such as these change America?

Truth Alert: Caution students that legitimate concerns about terrorism are no excuse to relinquish their full-time obligation to distinguish between fact, which informs, and rumor, which can cause needless panic. Remind students not to believe every notice about terrorism they see on the Internet or story that is passed on from the friend of a friend. See for an analysis of terrorist rumors.
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Article Details
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Author:Vilbig, Peter
Publication:New York Times Upfront
Article Type:Cover Story
Geographic Code:1USA
Date:Nov 12, 2001
Previous Article:Anthrax FAQ. (Science).
Next Article:Bias of war: recalling the racial hysteria of world war II internment camps, Japanese-Americans try to stop history from repeating itself.

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