Barr drives anti-PATRIOT bandwagon

Fear can pack an auditorium. Last week, a panel discussion of the PATRIOT Act filled Georgia Tech's Clary Theatre to capacity, with additional audience members standing in the aisles. The discussion, co-sponsored by the Atlanta Press Club and Georgia Tech's Internet and Public Policy Project, began with a debate between former Congressman Bob Barr and Assistant U.S. Attorney Randy Chartash, followed by questions from Jabari Simama, executive director of the Mayor's Office of Community Technology, and journalists Ann Woolner of Bloomberg News and CL's John Sugg.

Chartash tried to keep the focus of the debate to the specifics of the PATRIOT Act, including wiretaps, sneak-and-peak searches and information sharing between intelligence and criminal agencies. Barr, however, pushed the conversation to the general climate of the act, discussing it along with intrusive surveillance programs, and what has been dubbed PATRIOT II, a further expansion of government power including an administration plan that would allow it to strip citizenship from people it deems to be terrorists. According to Barr, these programs gut the Fourth Amendment by allowing the government to collect information on people that it has no reason to suspect are engaged in criminal activity.

The irony of Barr's dissention is that he voted for the PATRIOT Act while in office, which Chartash — and audience members — pointed out. Part of his approval, Barr says, was due to fresh wounds left after 9-11.

"It is absolutely not necessary to compromise our civil liberties," he says. "9-11 didn't succeed because there wasn't a PATRIOT Act." The terrorists succeeded, he says, because of the lack of enforcement of existing laws when they acquired drivers' and flight licenses and when they overstayed their visas. The audience clearly approved of Barr's anti-PATRIOT stance, including one member who bluntly stated, "I never thought I'd agree with you on anything."

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