The Senate yesterday approved a Republican plan which arms the government with sweeping powers to keep watch on terror suspects.The Democrats tried to reduce the sweeping powers sought to be given to the intelligence agencies.They failed because several of their party colleagues voted in favor.These agencies can now eavesdrop on suspects without a court order.
All this is fine in theory but past experience has shown that such powers have often been used against ordinary americans as well.
The Bill is not entirely new.Efforts in this direction have been going on for some time.Soon after 9/11 Congress passed the USA Patriot Act that vastly expanded the government's authority to spy on its own citizens without judicial approval or public accountability.
The Patriot Act has already given powers to the Govt. to even search private property and also to mount electronic surveillance. But the disturbing factor is that it has given powers to search through records held by third persons such as financial records, medical histories, university records etc. Now that we are living in a computerized world it means that a person's entire life is laid threadbare before these agencies. What is worse is that these sources are forbidden from disclosing to a subject that his records have been examined.
The question that arises is whether such an Act violates the Constitution or not? Experts would have us believe that it violates fundamental freedoms like freedom of liberty and speech.
Maybe, given the present global situation, it is perhaps a small price to pay for National Security. What is certain though is that the public debate on the issue promises to be a long and bitter one.