In justifying his efforts in the Senate Judiciary Committee to extend the abusive and unconstitutional searches and seizures conducted under the Patriot Act, Senator Patrick Leahy has said that he needs to find “balances” between the protections against unreasonable search and seizure found in the Fourth Amendment to the Constitution on the one hand, and the fears of some Americans that terrorists might attack somewhere, sometime.
However, it is not Leahy’s job as a member of the Senate and chair of the Senate Judiciary Committee to find a balance between security and liberty. It’s his job to uphold the Constitution, and to conduct oversight of the Executive Branch to make sure that the President and his employees do the same.
The concept that there must be a balance between security and freedom is found nowhere in the Constitution. In fact, the word “balance” is completely absent from both the original document and its amendments.
The Constitution does give responsibility to the government for preserving the common defense. However, after giving that fundamental duty, the Constitution puts strict limits upon the way that the common defense may be secured. The Fourth Amendment, which reads, “The right of the people to be secure in their persons, houses, papers, and effects, against unreasonable searches and seizures, shall not be violated, and no Warrants shall issue, but upon probable cause, supported by Oath or affirmation, and particularly describing the place to be searched, and the persons or things to be seized,” creates clear limits to the activities of the government, whether security is at stake or not. These limits are not negotiable. Probable cause is required, related to particular items for search and seizure – without exception.
The Patriot Act clearly fails to meet these constitutional requirements. Besides that, government spy agencies have been caught using the Patriot Act to conduct broad, non-specific searches and seizures against huge numbers of people who had nothing whatsoever to do with any security threat against the government or against the people of the United States of America.
Senator Leahy is wrong in his argument that there is supposed to be a balance between security and freedom. Even if he was correct in that claim, however, he would be wrong in his assertion that the Patriot Act as he would extend it using his bill, S. 1692, strikes a balance between security and freedom. It does not. The Patriot Act sacrifices American freedom for the sake of government powers that are used in an abusive manner that does not contribute to the security of our nation.