By Martin Leatherman, Newsdesk.org staff
This Fourth of July weekend, Americans will descend on their local parks and fire up the barbecues for a celebration of independence and liberty packed with fireworks and patriotic zeal. The Patriot Act, just four years old, has asked Americans to relinquish some of those hard-earned liberties in exchange for greater security. Passed by Congress in the emotional aftermath of the September 11 attacks, the controversial bill expanded the federal government’s investigative and intelligence-gathering powers to fight terrorism. Among other things, it allows secret searches of private property, defines terrorism broadly, expands the government’s ability to watch people, and opens Internet use and personal reading habits to federal scrutiny. Now, with portions of the bill due to “sunset” or expire, Congress has begun debating its reauthorization — and critics are targeting provisions they say are too easily abused.