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 Today's Take:  NCR's daily Web column
Each weekday over the course of a week, a member of the NCR staff offers a commentary on one or more topics in the news.  It's our way of introducing you to some of the people carrying out the NCR mission of faith and justice based journalism.

April 30, 2003
Vol. 1, No. 18




global perspective Open wide and say 'Homeland Security'

by Pat Morrison, managing editor of NCR

You're tilted back in the dentist's chair, one of those little paper bibs clipped around your neck. Your annual set of x-rays has just been taken, and your dentist is giving direction to the technician. "Betty, could you please bring me the films when they're ready? Thanks . Oh. And be sure to send a set to Tom Ridge, too."

Making light of Homeland Security: the stuff of a Jay Leno monologue, or a Dave Barry column. Exaggeration? Sure. Comedy is nothing if not a spoof on reality. But the reality is becoming perhaps a bit too Orwellian for comfort.

The above episode in the dentist's office hasn't happened, that I know of. But according to my dental plan, it's not unthinkable.

I don't normally read those fine-print multi-fold "disclosures" that come in bills and other mailings. However, when a Notice of Privacy Practices fell out of a recent mailing from my dental plan, something new caught my eye. Among the standard entries -- my dental records, or so it alluded and I knew, can be used to help identify my remains if I am the victim of a crime or disaster -- was the newest addition, under the heading "Disclosures for Specialized Government Functions": "The Plan may disclose your protected health information as required to comply with governmental requirements for (emphasis mine) national security reasons or for protection of certain government personnel or foreign dignitaries."

Could my bicuspids really be a threat to national security? And does my overbite jeopardize the safety, say, of the Ambassador of Kerplunkistan? Apparently so.

On Oct. 26, 2001, just six weeks after the 9/11 terrorist acts on the United States, the USA Patriot Act went into effect. What many people don't know is that it's an acronym - noble-sounding shorthand for the contrived "Uniting and Strengthening America by Providing Appropriate Tools Required to Intercept and Obstruct Terrorism." Since the act's passage, the Department of Homeland Security also has been established, endowed with more sweeping powers than a DirtBuster Deluxe vacuum and growing like the proverbial weed. And that has more than a few Americans, from regular "folk" to constitutional experts, worried about a wholesale and creeping erosion of civil liberties.

Do we as a nation need to be concerned about terrorism? Certainly. Does the United States have the right and duty to implement effective security measures? Of course. Are we tiptoeing dangerously close to a McCarthy-era paranoia? When Big Brother is accessing my x-rays because my molars (and by extension the rest of me) are suspects in the War on Terrorism, we've probably gone further than we ought to. It may be time to open wide and say "Enough!"

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