For many people, the implementation of the Patriot Act less than two months after the terrorist attacks of Sept. 11, 2001, just made air travel more of a hassle.
For Christopher Bellas, assistant professor of Criminal Justice, it raised lots of questions about civil liberties and freedom.
In a recent paper titled “The USA Patriot Act: Legislative (In) Justice?” published in The Homeland Security Review, Bellas discusses the legal aspects of the Patriot Act, privacy as a right, and the law from a philosophical point of view.
Bellas said that much of the controversy over the Patriot Act, signed into law by President George W. Bush on Oct. 26, 2001, is its subtle broadening the scope of the investigative powers of law enforcement, giving police and others more latitude with respect to searches of people and places.
“In the article, I show that the Patriot Act amends existing laws rather than creating new ones,” he said, allowing for more intrusive use of surveillance under the umbrella of national emergency or security.
For instance, Bellas said the Patriot Act amends the Wiretap Act of 1968 to include a broader use of the term “wire communication,” extending beyond phones to most electronic devices. The Patriot Act also amends the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act of 1978 by changing the word sole to significant, with regard to the threshold requirement for obtaining a warrant, he said.
“This, of course, has become a contentious, albeit not new issue in criminal justice,” he said. “The concept of crime control versus civil liberties, and the idea of freedom versus government powers, have been debated for years.”
The ever-changing issue facing law and society is a topic that Bellas has studied for the past 15 years. He earned his PhD from Kent State University in Political Science, specializing in Justice Studies, a master’s degree from YSU in Criminal Justice, and a bachelor’s degree from Edinboro University of Pennsylvania, also in Political Science.
Bellas almost settled into a career path he didn’t really want, as a business administration major at Edinboro. “I used to be a B or C (grade) student in business,” he said. “Then I took my second course in Political Science – Constitutional law – and I knew I was on to something.”
Bellas is currently working on a book chapter for a law and society textbook, has been invited to author a book on self-defense and stand-your-ground laws, and is writing another encyclopedia article on the court system, this time on jury trials.
Story by Harry Evans