The Independent Voice of Southern Methodist University Since 1915

The Daily Campus

The Daily Campus

The Independent Voice of Southern Methodist University Since 1915

The Daily Campus

The Independent Voice of Southern Methodist University Since 1915

The Daily Campus


Patriot Act discussed

Professors, members of the community and students gathered at 4:30 p.m. Thursday to watch a panel discuss and debate the USA PATRIOT Act as part of the Stanton Sharp Symposium.

According to the Department of Justice website, the Patriot Act stands for “Uniting and Strengthening America by Providing Appropriate Tools Required to Intercept and Obstruct Terrorism.”

The panel discussion included Tom Petrowski, associate division counsel for the FBI, Tony Pederson, Belo distinguished chair in journalism, and Chip Pitts, volunteer with the Bill of Rights Defense Committee movement and an international attorney.

Linda Eads, associate professor of law at SMU and a former deputy attorney general, moderated the panel, which took place in the Hughes-Trigg Theater.

Jim Hopkins, chair of SMU’s history department, introduced the panel that discussed “one of the most tortured acronyms that has ever entered our language.”

The Patriot Act has caused concerns about free speech on campuses nationwide, Hopkins said.

Pederson agreed and voiced his concerns about the role of the media.

“Our system of government is grounded in openness; it’s all about our understanding of what’s going on in government,” he said. “If terrorists are denied information about our country’s vulnerability, then so, too is the American public denied information about what the vulnerabilities of its government are.”

Petrowski voiced his support for the Patriot Act and emphasized the importance of the government’s goals. Previously, he said, the FBI and other law enforcement agencies have punished criminals, not prevented them from committing crimes. With terrorism, it’s different.

“Imagine how much more difficult it is than traditional law enforcement,” he said.

On the other end of the spectrum, Pitts lamented the passage of the act because “it affects every single one of the amendments on the Bill of Rights.”

“I believe we’re on a terribly wrong path,” he said. “If we don’t have a public debate, we’re going to have a very dark time indeed.”

Pitts and Petrowski debated several aspects of the Patriot Act, including Section 213, which allows for delayed notification warrants.

Petrowski maintained that the government has used this process, which notifies suspects that their property has been searched after the search has occurred, for decades.

“The standard for delayed notification is exactly what it was in the ’70s,” he said.

Pitts disagreed.

“What Section 213 does is it takes the exception and makes it the rule,” he said. Before the Patriot Act was passed, the “knock-and-announce” rule was required in all but extraordinary cases, Pitts said.

The two also disagreed about the causes for the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks. According to Pitts, the existing legal structure was sufficient to prevent the attacks. “The failure to prevent 9/11 was a failure of human error,” he said.

“And in an overzealous attempt to protect prosecutorial power, we’re doing things, in my view, that are counterproductive – we’re damaging democracy and security.”

Petrowski objected. “It’s still preposterous what we have to go through to find our if a (terrorist suspect) stayed in a hotel,” he said.

Petrowski said that a new set of laws was needed to fight terrorism. National security laws are far more complicated, he said, and also more important. He also expressed his wish to clear up misinformation about the topic of national security.

“A lot of the numbers he [Pitts] gave are just lies,” he said. “The FBI and Department of Justice have been remiss in not taking part in public discourse as much as we could have.”

Members of the audience supported and disagreed with the Patriot Act. One man voiced his appreciation for the large numbers of arrests and deportation connected with the passage of the Act.

Professor Hopkins, however, said he was concerned.

He called the Patriot Act “genuinely insidious” because “it creeps into the fiber and fabric of academic life and people who might have spoken out aren’t speaking.”

Pederson agreed.

“I think the media have also had a hand in this; our response has been rather muted,” he said. “There has been a level of awkwardness and silence that’s unhealthy for democracy in the long run.”

When Petrowski was asked about officials taking names at Islamic events, he said the repeal of the Patriot Act wouldn’t help the situation. The Act explicitly forbids action to be taken solely based on actions related to the first amendment.

“It’s absolutely a violation of attorney general guidelines,” he said.

Michelle Wigianto was one of the few students who peppered the audience. She said she enjoyed the panel, but was surprised by the direction of the discussion.

“I thought they’d focus on media more and give more of an overview on what the Patriot Act was; it got really technical,” she said.

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