Center for American Progress

Securing America, Protecting Our Freedoms After September 11

Progressive Priorities Project
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As a new presidential term and a new Congress begin, the Center for American Progress has launched the Progressive Priorities Project to provide policymakers and the public with a positive vision for progressive policymaking supported by a series of new and bold policy ideas in priority areas identified by American Progress. Securing America, Protecting Our Freedoms After September 11 is the ninth of more than a dozen papers in the series that American Progress will issue over the course of the coming weeks. In addition to providing broad policy recommendations, each of the papers in the series proposes specific steps that policymakers can take to achieve the broader policy goals. All of the papers in the series will be compiled and published as a book early this year.

History teaches that grave threats to liberty often come in times of urgency, when constitutional rights seem too extravagant to endure . . . when we allow fundamental freedoms to be sacrificed in the name of real or perceived exigency, we invariably come to regret it.
—Thurgood Marshall (1989)

Is there, in all republics, this inherent, and fatal weakness? Must a government, of necessity, be too strong for the liberties of its own people, or too weak to maintain its own existence?
—Abraham Lincoln (1861)

Full Report in PDF

The attacks of September 11 shattered our sense of invulnerability and unleashed a security challenge of enormous dimensions. After the attacks, many people concluded that new approaches were needed to secure our nation, even if certain constitutional rights were curtailed in the process. This impulse to strike a new "balance" between liberty and security is based on a false choice. Being safe and being free are not mutually exclusive. The Constitution has survived many threats, including civil insurrections and world wars. It is precisely during times of crisis that rights must be most steadfastly defended.

In this chapter of the Progressive Priorities Series, the Center for American Progress offers specific guidance to protect civil liberties as the president and Congress debate our nation’s response to terrorism, particularly the reauthorization of expiring provisions of the USA PATRIOT Act. Our guidance is based on three core principles—increasing transparency of government actions, holding the government accountable through our system of checks and balances, and narrowly tailoring government powers toward the goal of enhancing security. Specifically, we call for: (1) a series of reforms to make surveillance, law enforcement, and immigration powers adhere to constitutional principles and to help prevent abusive treatment of citizens and non-citizens alike; (2) a rigorous review of all PATRIOT Act powers that leads to renewing or revising authorities only if Congress is satisfied that there is an actual and ongoing need for them and that they will not be abused; and (3) measures to empower the newly formed Privacy and Civil Liberties Oversight Board to play a meaningful role in preventing and correcting abuses. Adopting these measures will help ensure that our nation is secure—and that our freedoms are protected.

Full Report in PDF

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