The broad powers given to the U.S. government under the Patriot Act should make citizens wary, and Americans should be prepared to protect their civil liberties, Matt LeMieux said in a speech at the MU Law School Monday night.
LeMieux, executive director of the eastern Missouri chapter of the American Civil Liberties Union, said the act is useful in helping prevent terrorism but Americans should keep a close eye on it.
“We don’t know if this is making us more safe,” LeMieux said during the hour and a half speech at the MU Law School auditorium that drew more than 90 people.
LeMieux questioned some of the provisions of the Patriot Act and said they threaten the civil liberties of Americans. However, he was also careful not to dismiss the act, which President George W. Bush said has prevented further attacks on U.S. soil.
“Let them use it,” LeMieux said. “But make sure somebody is watching.”
The Patriot Act was passed by Congress and signed by Bush in response to the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks, and increased the surveillance and investigative powers of law enforcement agencies throughout the country. The act was passed less than 45 days after the attacks.
LeMieux said provisions of the Patriot Act such as Section 215, which gives the government the authority to check library records of any citizen under the guise of protecting against terrorists, are decreasing the traditional checks and balances of the country.
“It affects all of us and there is nothing that limits this (records search) only to foreign agents,” LeMieux said.
He also raised concern about secret searches, which he termed a “sneak and peek search” that gives the FBI the right to search a person’s house without notifying the homeowner until months after the search.
Eduardo del Castillo, a 72-year-old retired lawyer and native of Cuba, said he didn’t hear anything he didn’t know about the Patriot Act, but said others in the community should understand what this law is about.
“It is important to let the young people know what is happening in this country,” del Castillo said.
He added that people should be on their toes and watching carefully to see how the act evolves.
Christopher Walters, a 20-year-old sophomore studying literature at MU, said community members should be concerned about what their government is doing and what powers they have.
“I agreed with most of what he said,” Walters said. “I think is a good idea to put limits on what the government is doing; the government should have less power.”