Former New Mexico governor and Libertarian presidential candidate Gary Johnson called for the Patriot Act to be repealed Sunday night during a national American Civil Liberties Union conference.
The controversial counter-terrorism legislation was approved by Congress following the September 11 terrorist attacks.
“Ten years ago, we learned that the fastest way to pass a bad law is to call it the ‘Patriot Act’ and force Congress to vote on it in the immediate wake of a horrible attack on the United States," Johnson said. "The irony is that there is really very little about the Patriot Act that is patriotic. Instead, it has turned out to be yet another tool the government is using to erode privacy, individual freedom and the Constitution itself."
Civil liberties advocates have condemned the law because it allows authorities to conduct surveillance without identifying the person or location to be wiretapped, permits surveillance of non-U.S. persons who are not affiliated with a terrorist group, and allows law enforcement to gain access to “any tangible thing” during terrorism investigations.
“Benjamin Franklin had it right," Johnson continued. "'Those who would give up essential liberty to purchase a little temporary safety, deserve neither liberty nor safety.'"
“Absolutely, protecting the American people from those who would do us harm is the federal government’s most basic duty. Everyone gets that. But when harm is done, as on 9-11, it is the nature of government to ask for more power and more authority in order to protect us. That’s how we get laws like the Patriot Act."
In May of 2011, Obama signed into law a four-year extension of the Patriot Act.
“In fact, we now know that intelligence ‘failures’ of the sort that perhaps allowed 9-11 to happen were not due to a lack of authority, but were most likely the result of dysfunction," Johnson said. "We can and should fix the dysfunction, but that can be done without granting the government broad new powers to dig in to American’s lives, demand financial records from banks and businesses, and monitor your cell phone because your kid goes to school with a kid whose father might be associated with what might be a terrorist-supporting organization.
“Thoughtful review and actual experience over the past ten years under the Patriot Act have given us the wisdom of hindsight. That hindsight leads me to the firm conclusion that it is a law that we do not need in order to protect ourselves, and that is itself a threat to the very constitutional guarantees of freedom it purports to preserve."
Johnson, a long-time libertarian, had begun his 2012 presidential campaign as a Republican candidate. But after being barred from participating in GOP debates, he announced his intention to become the nominee of the Libertarian Party in late December.