Is America still the land of the free? In today’s highly monitored and “secure” society, Americans have been watching as more and more of their freedoms are stripped away from them in the name of the law. Some of these laws have a clear reason for existing but have resulted in negative outcomes due to outlier cases. For most however, the restrictions they place on law-abiding citizens is deplorable and should be enough to throw out these regulations altogether – if not for the sake of “safety”.
Under the Patriot Act, many amendments have been severely limited in their protections of American freedoms. Since being signed into law in 2001, the official definition of terrorism has been expanded to include a variety of domestic groups, including nonviolent groups engaging in civil disobedience. This will put your name on a list that enables easier access to a search warrant. In addition to this, should the government request information about your records from any sort of record keeper (such as a librarian), they can be detained if it is found they informed you of this investigation or if they attempt to safeguard your privacy.
Quite a few alterations have been made to the first amendment. One particular limitation to the right to freedom of association allows the government to monitor the private and protected activities of political and religious groups. Furthermore, they are also able to infiltrate these groups without any suspicion of criminal activities whatsoever, essentially permitting the government to spy on these groups. As an individual, you can also be subjected to government investigation because of association with such a group as stated before, including activist or advocacy groups, thus infringing on your right to privacy.
Speaking of privacy, here’s a violation of freedom that many Americans are aware of yet seem to let slide by. Under the Patriot Act (as well as loose interpretation of the 4th amendment as far as what “privacy” means), the NSA is able to monitor the phones and electronic communications of citizens. In big news, the government previously collected 3 months worth of data from Verizon Wireless with the names, dates, and phone calls of every Verizon customer during that time period, regardless of any suspicion of wrongdoing. The NSA continues their surveillance of citizens despite having been unable to predict any recent attacks on US citizens. This full extent of this injustice has just become clear under the Obama Administration thanks to the tireless work or whistle blowers like Edward Snowden.
The first amendment and the Freedom of Information Act also allows citizens the right to access government information. However, the US Department of Justice actively encourages the limitation or restriction of these documents to citizens under a directive. A rather common example is of immigration hearings that the government holds behind closed doors, once readily available to the public. Hundreds of people have been deported in secret as a result of this. The directive further limits accessibility to other trials and information in this same way.
Just as the NSA performs surveillance on your phone calls and internet searches, the 4th amendment is betrayed a step further by allowing law enforcement officials to view or seize documents and records about you as long as it is under the premise of “terrorism”. Just as with number one on this list, you can have your records seized from doctors, lawyers, employers or accountants without even being aware of the investigation. If they try to inform you of this or protect your information, they can be prosecuted.
Under the 5th amendment, all US citizens SHOULD have a right to know their crime and what they are being charged with. Furthermore, the government should be unable to detain US citizens without any charges. As of the Ashcroft raid which occurred shortly after the September 11 attacks, this appears to be no longer the case. Hundreds of Arab, Muslim, and South-Asian men, including American citizens, were rounded up and held indefinitely, with no clear appeals process for their release, until after they had all been cleared of being potential terrorists. This is also a clear violation of the 6th amendment, the right to a public and speedy trial.
The 6th amendment grants us the right to legal representation. Much of this has changed. In addition to being detained without a charge, hundreds of US residents have been denied access to the advice of an attorney. The Bush Administration in particular has filed several papers to argue that Americans held in military prisons without charge should be denied access on the grounds that it would interfere with the interrogation process. For those who are able to get through to their attorney, the government also has access to monitor private conversations between a defendant and their attorney in federal jails.
The 8th amendment very clearly states freedom from cruel and unusual punishment, yet this freedom is violated regularly. Even outside of horror-filled institutions like Guantanamo Bay, American citizens often face abuse within the prison system. There have been cases of the government taking citizens identified as “material witnesses” and locking them in solitary confinement with no communication to the outside world. The Ashcroft raids are also a vivid example of prison abuse, in which the prisoners were victims of a pattern of verbal and physical abuse. This does not even begin to cover the amount of under-reported abuse that takes place in prisons every day.
The 14th Amendment grants right to equal protection for all American citizens, yet has not really ever seemed to be taken seriously. As seen with Japanese internment camps (which was a HUGE violation of freedom to thousands of legal and nonviolent American residents and citizens) and more recently with the Ashcroft raids, the government can and will discriminate against you when it is in the name of safety. More than 82,000 men of South Asian descent have been registered as a part of a “Special Registration” program. 13,000 deportations are in progress despite not a single one of these people being charged with terrorism.