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Local editorials

If Patriot Act's bad, just wait

If another attack occurs, there will be pressure to roll back more rights

The Patriot Act has so far proved less intrusive than its opponents feared. But, although it still contains the potential for abuse by overzealous government authorities, it is a pale imitation of what may lie ahead if there is another terrorist attack on American soil.

Librarians who participated in the annual First Amendment Forum last week at Southern Oregon University acknowledged that federal agents have not broken down library doors to demand access to patrons' reading lists. Of course, if FBI agents had taken a look, the Patriot Act would bar them from saying so. But they can ' and do ' say that no one has requested library records so far.

This newspaper joined many around the country in raising objections to provisions of the Patriot Act that appeared to us to threaten civil liberties long cherished and protected in this country. Our opinion has not changed, despite the fact that so far, the act appears to have been more symbolic than intrusive.

To say that our government needs more power to secretly gather information on Americans for their own protection is troubling at best, but to then argue that we haven't used these powers, so your fears are groundless is even more disturbing. As long as those portions of the act remain on the books, nothing prevents government agents from using them tomorrow.

For Patrice McDermott of the American Library Association, it is the day after tomorrow that is most ominous. Or, to be more specific, the day after the next major terrorist attack on the United States.

If something else happens, all bets are off, she said.

— We would go one step further and suggest that not only would the government aggressively rely on every provision of the Patriot Act, it would seek to enact even more draconian laws. In fact, the infamous legislation dubbed Patriot II emerged in 2003, little more than a year after the Patriot Act was enacted.

Patriot Act II would have given the government far more sweeping powers than its predecessor, including the ability to wiretap Americans or monitor their e-mail and chat sessions for 15 days without a warrant; the power to deport legal resident aliens on suspicion alone and deny them a court hearing to defend themselves; and the power to force anyone to submit a DNA sample, again without a warrant, if the government suspected them of terrorist activity.

Patriot Act II never got off the ground, because groups from across the political spectrum objected vigorously to its provisions. But imagine what might have happened had there been another major attack of the magnitude of Sept. 11.

Laws such as these diminish the United States by slicing away at the constitutional protections that have made this country unique in the world for more than two centuries. It is imperative that our congressional representatives not rush to undermine civil liberties in the name of security.

Studded tire fee fair

Are you one of those folks who thinks it's unfair to charge motorists a fee for using studded tires? Well, we don't. Amid the click-click-click of the tires each fall and winter, there's a precedent for collecting fees from vehicles using our roads.

It's trucks. The state charges trucks weight-mile taxes, on the grounds that their greater weight takes a toll on the public roadways that much-lighter passenger vehicles don't. Similarly, studded tires chew up road surfaces far faster than ordinary passenger tires or non-studded traction tires.

A bill now before the Oregon Legislature would levy a per-tire fee of perhaps &

36;10. It is meant to partially offset the cost of the damage studs do to state highways, which totals some &

36;11 million annually.

Sponsors of the bill say they are willing to be flexible and might assess the fee only on the west side of the Cascades, giving a break to motorists on the icier east side (Interstate 5 bears much of the brunt of stud damage).

Another option they should consider is keeping the fee statewide but reducing it, say to &

36;5 or &

36;7. Most folks who use studs keep a set for several winters, so the fee isn't a huge burden.

Short of banning studded tires entirely, we think a fee is a fair way to protect our roadways. The Legislature should adopt it.