I’ve had a little experience living without the protection of the Constitution.
And I didn’t like it.
I lived in Mexico as an exchange student my senior year of high school. I learned that the people I met were a lot like my friends back home. The high school I attended was pretty similar. And the family I lived with loved me and took me in as one of its own.
But the legal system was a different story.
On almost every street corner was a police officer armed with an AK47. The drug enforcement police had ultimate authority, I was told. I could be searched at any time.
I could be apprehended without cause and taken away, my friends said. Nobody seemed to know where I’d be taken, but I believed them.
I was told not to make eye contact with the police.
I did as I was told.
I don’t know if my friends knew exactly what they were talking about. We were all 18-years-old.
But I know their fear was real. I know they crossed the street if a policeman was coming their way. And I know they didn’t give any attitude when asked a question.
You may say that doesn’t sound a lot different than this country.
It’s true. There aren’t a lot of 18-year-olds who enjoy the company of police officers. I didn’t particularly like them when I was a teenager.
But I wasn’t afraid of them either – because I knew my rights.
I knew I couldn’t be arrested or detained without just cause. I knew I couldn’t be searched unless I gave my permission or there was a warrant. And I knew my legal system was designed to protect individual rights over governmental authority, not the other way around.
The bottom line is I’m not afraid of my government because I know I’m protected by the Constitution. I can tell the president I think he’s an idiot and I won’t be arrested.
I can show my face in public without fearing I’ll be thrown into the back of a car by someone wielding a badge.
And I can comfortably sit at home knowing the government isn’t listening in on my phone calls or reading my e-mails.
That’s what makes this country different from places like Afghanistan or China.
But some of that may be changing.
In response to the recent attacks, President Bush has proposed a new anti-terrorism bill, the Mobilization Against Terrorism Act (MATA).
Clearly this country needs to make some changes to protect itself from future attacks. If there’s anything this tragedy has taught us, it’s that we’re vulnerable to a number of different terrorist threats.
We have to tighten internal security.
I went to a Red Sox game last Wednesday night. When I got the gate I was surprised to see a security guard frisking everyone. I was more surprised when he told me I couldn’t bring my backpack into the stadium.
I was not happy.
I ended up having to walk back to the car and missed half of the first inning. The whole time I was walking I was thinking about how mad I was.
Then I realized I was being selfish.
I was willing to undergo a little inconvenience to help keep the stadium safe.
But I am not willing to give up any of the rights guaranteed to me in the Constitution. I am willing to compromise convenience but I will not compromise my rights.
MATA has provisions that would increase the government’s ability to tap into phone calls and e-mails.
The Fourth Amendment to the Constitution ensures “the right of the people to be secure in their persons, houses, papers, and effects, against unreasonable searches and seizures.”
MATA doesn’t uphold that right.
The president’s heart is in the right place. These are extreme times. There need to be serious changes made in national security.
But what’s to separate us from the countries that harbor terrorists if we have to restrict personal freedoms to beat terrorism?
Already members of both political parties have come forward to speak out against MATA. Let’s hope our leaders can keep their heads and realize its freedom that makes us who we are.