Stock market crashes. Worries of chemical war.
Many things now weigh on the minds of Americans since the terrorist attack two weeks ago. Added to the list may be the fear of diminished freedoms, even here at the University of Southern Maine.
Lori Dell, a history major here, wrote an e-mail last week after the terrorist attacks. She was concerned because terrorists had passed through the Portland area and the FBI discovered they used public computers at public libraries in planning the attacks.
“I urge USM library administrators to reconsider elimination to the public accessibility to computer terminals throughout the UMaine system,” wrote Dell. “The public’s need for free public access is outweighed by the nation’s need for safety, security and public trust in our institutions and government.”
The public has access to different public libraries in the Greater Portland area, one of which is the Glickman Family Library on the Portland campus.
The library already established a new system in June that separated public use from student use.
“Prior to the change all computers were completely open,” said Barbara D. Smith, associate director of University Libraries.
This created a waiting problem for computers users. So to compromise, 22 computers
are reserved for USM students, staff and faculty while seven are reserved for community patrons.
“The whole issue of the library is to provide intellectual freedom,” said Smith.
Some fear the move to restrict public access to the Internet could lead to more restrictions of civil liberties.
“We must not take for granted our basic freedoms, including the steadfast commitment to civil liberties and tolerance of others. Nor should we be willing to sacrifice these fundamental values, nor look the other way as they are undermined,” said Anthony D. Romero, executive director of the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) in a written statement.
President George W. Bush is currently proposing a Mobilization Against Terrorism Act (MATA) in response to the recent attacks. The bill would change the government’s authority over wiretapping, eavesdropping and immigration.
The ACLU is concerned with some of MATA’s provisions, according to Maine Civil Liberties Union Associate Director Dorcas Gilpatrick.
She’s concerned the bill will allow the government to listen in on cell phone calls and allow access to content of e-mails.
Gilpatrick added that the provisions regarding immigration might allow the government to detain and sometimes deport legal aliens without proper hearings.
“It’s the kind of reaction we got in World War I and World War II,” she said. “These are extreme times. But we’re not nitpicking, these are major civil liberties.”
Some of the legal aliens referred to in the proposed legislation have been working in the United States for 20 years, while others are students studying in American universities, according to Gilpatrick.
Airports have already begun boosting security measures, including the installation of biometric identification systems for airport personnel, thorough bag searches and document checks.
Biometric identification machines use iris scans and digital fingerprints to identify people. Such high-tech devices can be effective in identifying dangerous people, but have been known to make mistakes. Members of the ACLU expressed concern that such technology could lead to discriminatory profiling and the improper detainment of innocent people.
“Proposed changes to restrict liberty should be examined and debated in public, they should be proven effective in increasing safety and security and they should be fairly applied in a non-discriminatory manner,” said the ACLU in a written statement.
Though the ACLU is a strong advocate for maintaining civil rights guaranteed in the constitution, Gilpatrick said her organization understands the need for increased national security following the recent terrorist attacks.
“The ACLU has no problems with provisions regarding airport security,” said Gilpatrick. “We’re also people who travel. We have friends in New York . It’s scary. But I think it’s possible to take thoughtful measures that significantly increase the security around us without eroding civil liberties.”
MCLU Executive Director Sally Sutton wants the government to consider its actions carefully.
“Congress and public officials need to act in a deliberate and thoughtful manner,” she said.
Sutton said people should beware of haste and realize that although there are new fears, laws should not be written on the basis of race. Freedom and liberties are the center of American life, she said.
Executive Editor Steve Peoples contributed to this article.
Contributing Writer Erin Zwirn can be contacted at: [email protected]