How will the new homeland security bill affect you?
Warren Richey, staff writer of The Christian Science Monitor, talked with csmonitor.com about how new homeland security legislation affects America's balance between security and freedom.Skip to next paragraph
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csmonitor.com: What does the homeland security bill seek to accomplish?
Mr. Richey: "The homeland security bill is aimed at streamlining the efforts of the government to prevent or respond to acts of terrorism carried out within the United States. It seeks to do it by organizing a number of federal agencies with related missions under one umbrella Homeland Security Department.
"For example, currently the Immigration and Naturalization Service and US Border Patrol are under the Justice Department, while the Customs Service and Secret Service are under the Department of the Treasury, and the Coast Guard is under the Transportation Department. All would play a key role in helping to prevent suspected terrorists from entering the country, and the idea is that they would be more effective in that role if they all worked within the same department for the same immediate boss."
csmonitor.com: Does this bill rearrange the deck chairs or build a whole new ship?
"Much of the bill is a rearranging of chairs, but the import of that reorganization is a concentration of power that may make it easier for the government to act swiftly and decisively to counter perceived threats.
"Some critics suggest that this is the wrong time to undertake such a massive reorganization. They note that the United States waged and won World War II before attempting to form what is today the Department of Defense. Some suggest government officials should be focused on responding to the ongoing threat of terrorism rather than drawing up interoffice flow charts and engaging in the inevitable interagency power struggles. Supporters say reorganization will make the job of protecting the nation that much more effective. They say it is tangible proof to everyone that homeland security is now among the highest priorities of the government.
csmonitor.com: How does this legislation effect the long-term balance between security and freedom in the US?
"It is too soon to answer this question with any certainty. Ultimately, the answer will depend on how aggressively the Bush administration seeks to carry out its mission. Critics say the bill provides a blueprint for the establishment of a variety of police state and Big Brother tactics that would never survive congressional scrutiny in more peaceful times. For example, efforts to mandate a national ID card have been repeatedly defeated. But the current bill calls for minimum national standards for all state-issued driver's licenses. The end result? A national ID card, although issued by 50 different states.
"Secrecy is also a chief concern among critics. The Homeland Security Department's actions will largely be exempt from Freedom of Information Act oversight by ordinary citizens and will be subject to a decreased level of congressional oversight, critics say.
"Congress has, to a large extent, left it to the Bush administration to take actions it deems necessary. Critics say this is a blank check that could seriously erode civil liberties by opening the door to widespread surveillance, including creation of a centralized databank collecting all available electronic information on individuals. Supporters say tough measures are necessary during tough times. They stress that the administration will not abuse its powers.