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Patriot Act becoming plain un-American

Former U.S. Senator Joseph McCarthy would probably be smiling if he were alive today.

As chairman of the Senate's investigations committee, McCarthy exploited the public's fear of Communism by holding crazed hearings, using anonymous informants and making unsubstantiated accusations against those he believed to be Communists.

McCarthy's witch hunts may not even hold a candle to what the FBI would be allowed to do under revisions to the Patriot Act approved Tuesday by the U.S. Senate Intelligence Committee. The changes would allow the FBI to subpoena records without the approval of a judge or grand jury in terrorism investigations.

While the motivation may be well intended, we have all heard the saying that the road to you-know-where is paved with good intentions. While the Patriot Act - signed into law six weeks after the Sept. 11 attacks - is meant to provide a tool to fight terror, we worry about where it will end.

Would these changes have prevented the attacks on Sept. 11 if they were in place? We don't believe so. But it does this give the FBI the ability to act as more like the Big Brother of George Orwell's famous future-predicting epic "1984."

Not only would the changes permit FBI-sanctioned witch-hunts, the plan would arm the "mob" with torches and battering rams.

If adopted, these changes would take the power of judgment away from the courts and puts it in the hands of the FBI, an agency that has never been known to fight for individual liberties. Where would the line be drawn between investigation and accusation?

Lawmakers supporting the proposal have said that it may need amended to allow administrative subpoenas ''only if immediacy dictates," according to Sen. Jay Rockefeller, D-W.Va.

"Immediacy" is a difficult word to define and should be done by a judge or jury, not by federal law enforcement officers. If the need is so immediate, we have faith in the checks and balances established in the U.S. Constitution that allow the judicial branch to deal with such needs quickly and appropriately.

The Patriot Act does not need expanded and portions should be allowed to expire this year as originally proposed.

These proposed changes may make McCarthy happy but George Washington and Thomas Jefferson would not be overjoyed with the erosion of the goal they strived for - freedom.