ACLU discusses Patriot Act’s impacts on students

While many students may have heard of the USA Patriot Act, few may know how it affects them.

The act impacts students in five ways, according to Nora Pincus, an intern at the American Civil Liberties Union and a U junior studying economics and history.

*Law enforcement agencies can access confidential records of students, faculty and staff, including library, medical and financial records.

*The FBI can contract with campus police to monitor religious and political activities at any university or college.

*Law enforcement agencies can track Web site visits, e-mails and phone conversations.

*Law enforcement can enter any dorm room and do a visual search without a warrant and without notifying the resident.

*International students must register with a national service and must report any change of address or other information.

Throughout the week, the student group University Not In Our Name has hosted a week of student action in order to inform students about social and political concerns. On Wednesday, the group focused on the Patriot Act.

Reinard Knutsen, communication director of the ACLU of Utah, says many students don’t know the specifics of the act because the document is nearly 100 pages long and is “confusing” as well.

“We’re here to make students aware of the Patriot Act, and we’re presenting information on how students can oppose it,” said Knutsen said.

A bipartisan bill, called the Security and Freedom Ensured (SAFE) Act of 2003, is currently in both the House of Representatives and the Senate. The bill proposes curtailing some of the sweeping surveillance and law-enforcement privileges granted in the Patriot Act, according to Knutsen.

Next year, a bill will be introduced to repeal the Patriot Act as well, Knutsen said.

Organizers hope students will contact their senators and representatives to support these new bills. Sen. Orrin Hatch, R-UT, is a “vital” senator to contact, as he is in favor of the Patriot Act. Knutsen said he hopes Utah citizens let Hatch know they do not support the bill.

He gave an example of one of the situations that has recently arisen due to the Patriot Act.

At the University of Idaho in Moscow, Idaho, three international students lived in a dorm together. One of them had falsified information on his visa, and the FBI found out. The agency sent 135 armed agents in and quarantined 1,400 students for 14 hours as they performed room-to-room searches. They arrested the three international students and then released them a couple of week later without any charges filed, according to Knutsen.

“They terrorized these students,” he said.

Erin Menut, a residential adviser and a doctoral candidate in English, says that the Patriot Act “is just wrong.”

“The point of acts like this is to protect from terrorism, but this act turns the police into a terrorist organization and suddenly we’re living in a police state,” she said.

Dorm resident Kellie Stirling, a speech communication and Middle East studies major, agrees.

“It’s unnecessary. If what they’re really trying to do with the Patriot Act is get rid of terrorism, going into a dorm room and looking around isn’t helping that,” she said.

Maulik Shah, a fund-raiser officer for the International Student Council, says some international students are uneasy about registering with the new tracking system.

“Students are not optimistic about having to register. Students are concerned because there isn’t enough information out there about what that information will be used for. I think the intention is good, but if that information is abused, and not used directly for stopping terrorism, then it is a bad thing,” Shah said.

Josh MacLeod, a senior studying philosophy and English and lives in the dorms, is angry about what the Patriot Act represents.

“How do we expect people to appreciate their country and the ideology it’s founded on if it’s so easy to take away the liberties on which this country is founded?” he said. “When these liberties can be taken away ad hoc, then it shows that they are not important and obviously not fundamental to the country and its people.”

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