Please, Not Our Civil Liberty

Are we ready to lean in as we prepare to kiss our civil liberties goodbye?

If the Justice Department has a say, they might answer with a slightly adjusted version of 2008's most popular political catch phrase: "Yes, we are".

The Justice Department is considering plans to change the rules that permit the Federal Bureau of Investigation to investigate citizens and legal residents.

As it stands now, an FBI agent has to have evidence in order to investigate a U.S. citizen.

But the new rules would give FBI agents the authority to create profiles of suspected terrorists based on behavior patterns and physical attributes. Anybody who fits that ambiguous description could become a suspect.

The soon-to-be-implemented rules would include a person's travel plans, race and ethnicity as qualifications to open a national security investigation on the given individual.

The ambiguity and open-ended nature of the rule not only infringes civil liberties, it directly denies it.

In an article in, James Zogby, president of the Arab-American Institute, said, "There are millions of Americans who, under the reported new parameters, could become subject to arbitrary and subjective ethnic and religious profiling."

Just three weeks ago, a congressional panel denied an attempt by the FBI to fortify its role as an intelligence gathering organization when it asked for $11 million in an effort to expand a controversial data-mining program.

How would legalizing prejudice and overt racism help unite and protect America?

Is the new American standard, "guilty (based on looks and ethnicity ) until proven innocent?"

The plans are slated to go into effect later this summer. What is most troubling is what this says about the American mentality when it comes to our safety and security. The institutionalization of racial profiling is already underway in pockets of the country, but this would take it to a whole new level. Are we really going to all be presuming guilt before innocence?

If America hopes to fulfill its declaration of liberty and justice for all, it will fervently scrutinize this potential contradiction of our constitution.

If I understand the constitution properly then regardless of the proposed shift in guidelines or whatever measure the attorney general institutes, actions prohibited by the constitution will clearly remain unconstitutional and therefore powerless.

It would be one thing to have suffered in a war that failed to "bring democracy to the Middle East", but to fail our democracy here - at home - might be irremediable.

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About Ahmed Shihab-Eldin

Ahmed Shihab-Eldin grew up in California, Kuwait, Egypt and Austria. He has most recently worked as a news producer for The New York Times and as a web producer for the PBS international documentary series, Wide Angle. His work has been featured in Frontline/World online, TimeOut, Washington Week and other blogs. He graduated from Columbia University's Graduate School of Journalism, where he know teaches a new media skills class. In 2008 Ahmed won a Webby award for a multimedia project called Defining Middle Ground: The Next Generation of Muslim New Yorkers. It can be seen here: His portfolio website can be seen at: His family is originally from Palestine

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