As the search for missing Malaysian Airlines flight 370 hits a fever pitch, it is time to start pondering how the disappearance may effect your legal rights in the future. Of course, the effect will largely depend on the ending portion of this already Hollywood style script but we can expect big changes regardless, especially if it is determined (with certainty) the plane was hijacked.
We only have to look to September 2001 to get an idea of what may be in store for the rights and civil liberties of us all.
The most infamous law to be born in the wake of 9/11 was the USA Patriot Act, which expanded the government's power to surveil and search. Our nation's policy towards suspected terrorists and persons of interest changed dramatically. Adam Laptak of the New York Times helps us remember that the "[d]etentions at Guantánamo Bay, extraordinary renditions and brutal interrogations all tested the limits of the appropriate exercise of government power in wartime. The American government held people without charge for almost a decade, engaged in torture as that term is understood in international law, and sent people abroad for questioning to countries known to engage in what everyone must agree is torture."
The nation's approach to domestic criminal law made a seismic shift post 9/11. Attorney General John D. Ashcroft announced “a new paradigm.” The goal was simple and far reaching: the prevention of terrorist acts was more important than punishment of crimes after the fact. This flew in the fact of a couple hundred years of clear American legal authority, which held that we do not punish people based on hypotheticals -- we only punish people for committing illegal acts after a judge or jury has found them guilty. This all went out the window if the alleged crime had anything to do with terrorism.
Many people do not consider this a real problem because, as they say, 'only terrorists or criminals have to worry about such things.' What many do not realize is that the expansion of search and seizure greatly effects the common person. Everyone gets pulled over for traffic tickets, most travel on planes, and everyone carries money. How do these facts relate to the expanded criminal powers of the government?
Well, I have had clients in each of these three situations where the influence of expanded criminal enforcement power (in the wake of 9/11) has greatly impacted their lives. In the traffic stop example, I have had a client who was supposedly pulled over for crossing a double yellow line and in fact was pulled over because he fit a "profile" of a criminal. He was pulled over because he looked of Arab descent. He was given a traffic ticket only after three police officers and a canine dog held him on the side of a highway for three hours as a full search of him and his car was done. I too had a client who was flying and the same thing happened except in his case he was questioned for hours in a small windowless room. As for the cash example, I have multiple clients who had all the money on their person taken because a drug dog "made a hit." That is, I have had clients who were picking their bags up at an airport baggage claim (and was carrying a few thousand dollars of cash), who were stopped and sniffed. What many do not know is that there is fairly good odds that the money you have in your pocket will "hit" for something illegal as money is not cleaned once in circulation and there are goods odds it was at one point used illegally. It took months (and sometimes years) to get this money back.
What does this all have to do with missing Malaysian Airlines flight 370? Well, if we learned anything from 9/11, the government will only tighten its grip on flyers. It will also expand its criminal powers once again. The rationale will be that since the missing flight could be anywhere by now, one has to assume that it (or another flight in the future under similar circumstances) could be used for terrorists acts. That is 100 percent the truth, unfortunately. I am not saying at all that we should not take steps to prevent harm. I only advocate for awareness of the average person of how this all effects your rights and liberties and that once aware, we all think on it a bit.
Contact a Fresno California lawyer with any questions or concerns. Call us at (559) 374-2012 or use our message form to the right of this page.