Increased safety needn’t lead to decreased freedom, at least according to a panel of local experts.

The Santa Barbara Chapter of the American Civil Liberties Union held an open forum last night at the Santa Barbara City Library to discuss the USA Patriot Act (USAPA), the Homeland Security Act and other issues concerning individual liberties. The forum featured several critics of recent heightened security measures, including UCSB sociology Professor Richard Flacks and law and society Associate Professor Kathleen Moore. Over 130 community members attended the meeting.

In addition, Richard Goldman, dean of the Ventura College of Law, spoke about the USAPA and argued that its passing not only endangers peoples’ lives, but undercuts the traditional checks and balances established in the U.S. Constitution.

“The real character of the USAPA is an absence of judicial review, and that’s the biggest concern that’s been expressed,” Goldman said. “If the basic design of the act thwarts the separation of powers, how do you get the judicial review that distinguishes a free society from a controlled society?”

Flacks, equally concerned about the increased power of the current presidential administration, warned that a byproduct of increasing domestic safety could be increased racial tensions.

“Historically, when we see the targeting of a specific group, it poisons the climate of free expression for the rest of the nation,” Flacks said. “These actions [taken by the current administration] have not been to stop terrorism but instead to increase the police power of the state.”

Moore also warned of the problems associated with increasing domestic safety at the cost of increasing such activities as racial profiling.

“While the objective of preventing terrorism is a laudable one, it is the government’s tactics in doing so which raise questions,” said Moore. “Before 9/11, U.S. policymakers had come a long way in cracking down on racial inequities in the law, but one day has changed all that.”