A Decade of the PATRIOT Act
A decade ago today, the United States Congress passed the USA PATRIOT Act. But before they voted for it, many members of Congress didn’t even read it. What they missed by not reading it was the risk that the legislation posed to our basic civil liberties – including a number of provisions that were recently reauthorizedby Congress and signed by President Obama.
Jewish tradition emphasizes the importance of respecting privacy and civil liberties, even early in Jewish law. Both the Bible and the Talmud provide rules to ensure the privacy of one’s home, from creditors (Deut. 24:10-11), neighbors (Pesikta Zutarta, Parashat Vayikra), and even one’s own family members (Talmud Bavli, Pesahim 112a). Beyond “mere” physical intrusions, Jewish tradition also prohibits monitoring personal space: The Talmud suggests a category of “harm caused by seeing” (hezeq re’iyyah) when an individual has his or her privacy violated by another person (Talmud Bavli, Baba Batra 2b-3a).
Granted, it is true that we face new threats, and those threats require new approaches. However, it is always important to seek a balance between preserving our civil liberties and keeping Americans safe. It is therefore vital that we work to ensure the privacy rights of all American citizens and work to repeal the aspects of the PATRIOT Act that encroach on those rights.
Photo courtesy of The New York Times.