Eroding privacy?

The National Legal Director of the American Civil Liberties Union spoke in Portland Friday about the Bush administration’s wire-tapping, the war in Iraq and adjustments citizens have incurred from legislation like the Patriot Act.

Steven Shapiro spoke at the City Club Friday Forum, a weekly luncheon held at the Governor Hotel that has boasted speakers like environmental scientist Dr. Jane Lubchenco. Shapiro, who has remained Legal Director since 1993, denounced actions of the Bush administration throughout the mid-day meeting.

He said the ACLU believes the Bush administration has been allowed to act without accountability in a time of war.

Shapiro said the Bush administration would like the public to think that the adjustments made to personal privacy during the last few years, through the Patriot Act, are only temporary measures, but are in fact a permanent transformation.

“The question we have to ask ourselves constantly is ‘Is this the kind of America I want to live in?'” he said. “Not for the next six months or three years, but for the indefinite future.”

Shapiro said that President Bush has signed 750 bills that have been enacted by congress as signing statements, an issue brought to public attention in the confirmation hearings of Samuel Alito.

“That is a frightening, frightening notion,” Shapiro said. “In doing such, the president has essentially said, ‘I am signing the bill that congress enacted into law, making the law effective, and I will obey the law as long as I think it makes sense to obey the law. And when I decide that it does not make sense to obey the law, I reserve the right to disobey the law.'”

Shapiro said the ACLU has taken actions recently against the government to try to preserve the civil liberties of individuals.

In the recently unfolding NSA phone tapping scandal, the government has directly violated a congressional prohibition that barred them from such activities, according to Shapiro.

The government’s response to scandals such as this has consistently been to refuse to go into the details due to the secretive nature of the information, he said.

Shapiro said the most troubling issue is that the administration responded to privacy concerns by saying that since the U.S. is at war, the president can essentially do whatever he chooses to do without accountability to the courts or congress.

Shapiro cited the constitution as a base for telling that the president’s first duty is to faithfully execute the laws of this country.

“The administration is proposing nothing less than a transformation of the way we do business in this country,” he said. “By asserting the authority that this administration has asserted, to ignore any law that congress had passed, and bypass the courts whenever it chooses to, because it’s in the middle of a war.”

“The notion that the president can ignore the law whenever he chooses to is not the definition of democracy,” he said. “It’s the definition of a military junta.”

Shapiro said the government’s conduct during the wars in U.S. history, such as persecution of protesters during World War I and the treatment of Japanese during World War II, as some of darkest periods of American history. He said the current “War on Terrorism” will remain with Americans for generations to come.

Shapiro said that the current war is different than wars in the past. He said that in the past, people were willing to sacrifice their rights during a war for a short period of time in the interest of public security, knowing that such measures were temporary.

“Nobody believes that the war on terrorism is going to end with a negotiated armistice,” he said. “Osama Bin Laden could be captured or killed tomorrow, and the war against terrorism would not end.”