Students discuss importance of freedom

Students discuss importance of freedom

November 17
22:40 2009

By Morgan Walker & Jessica Paul / Staff Writer & Intern –

The UNT student chapter of the American Civil Liberties Union held a discussion Tuesday in the University Union on the importance of privacy and freedom.

The event, “Privacy, Government Surveillance and the Patriot Act,” kicked off with the introduction at 4 p.m. by student chapter chairman Stephen Benavides, a political science senior.

Lee Henderson, a board member of the Texas ACLU and Chair of the Fort Worth chapter, speaks to Brian Hersey, a political science senior, after the end of a discussion on the Patriot Act on Tuesday in the University Union. (Photo by Clinton Lynch / Staff Photographer)

Lee Henderson, a board member of the Texas ACLU and Chair of the Fort Worth chapter, speaks to Brian Hersey, a political science senior, after the end of a discussion on the Patriot Act on Tuesday in the University Union. (Photo by Clinton Lynch / Staff Photographer)


“If the government has the ability to access your information then you’ll have limited privacy,” Benavides said. “Since the university’s public, the government’s going to have pretty in-depth abilities to access your information like purchases and Internet searches.”

The Patriot Act was put into place in 2001 to deter and punish terrorist acts in the U.S. and around the world and to enhance law enforcement investigation tools, according to the Electronic Privacy Information Center.

Benavides said the discussion is meant to be informative and wants audience members to leave with the knowledge that their rights are essentially suspended.

“This is setting the stage for future legislation where the government has the ability to suspend constitutional rights,” Benavides said. “What are they going to do next?”

Benavides introduced two speakers at the discussion including John Booth, a political science professor and author of the book, “Legitimacy Puzzle in Latin America: Political Support and Democracy in Eight Nations.”

Booth, who teaches comparative politics, reflected on the importance of civil liberties and said he wanted to provide a comparative point of view from a society where these rights are not respected.

“I’ve studied a lot of countries that weren’t democracies,” Booth said. “We live inside the United States and our framework is pretty good, and it makes us inattentive to how valuable it is.”

Booth added that he thinks it is important for all citizens of the U.S. to be aware of the risk of losing of their civil liberties.

“Anybody that’s involved in ACLU thinks that there’s a laundry list of problems in terms of restrictions on freedoms,” said Martin Smith, a student chapter member and a speech language pathology senior.

J. Aaron Barnes, a political science senior, said he was opposed to the reauthorization of the Patriot Act.

“I think it was a terrible idea when they passed it the first time because it erodes our system of checks and balances and places too much power in the executive that can be easily abused,” Barnes said. “The Obama administration hasn’t rolled back any of the conditions that the Bush administration put into place and has actually, in some cases, expanded them, like state secrecy.”

Barnes said the system that was in place before the Bush administration was much more effective.

“Personally, I think they should roll back pretty much the whole thing,” Barnes said. “I mean, the system that we already had in place with the [Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act] courts for wire-tapping was more than sufficient. If the justification is the War on Terror, we’ve been being attacked by terrorists for decades and decades. It’s an excuse to grab more power.”

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