Security is not a four letter word.

Schools use "resource officers" to protect students from forces that would interfere with their ability to learn in a safe environment.

City police swear their oaths to uphold laws and protect citizens.

And federal law-enforcement agencies are charged with providing security - guarding against enemies, foreign and domestic.

Americans wouldn't want to live in a country lacking these precautions.

But security becomes profane when it erodes personal freedom, such as the type resulting from the Patriot Act, the legislation passed soon after the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks.

Congress jumped headlong into the Patriot Act in an honest effort to stifle terrorism. But as time and distance from that terrible day gave way to cooler heads, it become clear the Bush Administration went too far. The Patriot Act has done more damage to American freedoms than any act of terrorism.

The law scoffs at the U.S. Constitution by granting the FBI almost universal powers of search and surveillance, and by allowing indefinite detention of citizens and non-citizens without formal charges, and eroding principles of free speech. This is not the America promised under the Constitution.

But it's the America advocated by the top two law enforcement officials of the Bush administration, who this week urged Congress to renew the Patriot Act, saying the law has proven invaluable in fighting terrorism and aiding investigations. In the next breath, FBI Director Robert Mueller asked lawmakers to expand the bureau's ability to obtain records without first asking a judge.

If granted, the FBI could stride into any home or office in its search for incriminating evidence, without first obtaining a search warrant - no motive needed, no justification required, just intrusion.

While terrorists cracked America's confidence, federal law-enforcement agencies are conspiring to destroy the U.S. as we know it.

The Patriot Act's usefulness should have been exhausted in the immediate months after Sept. 11, but while the U.S. is holding dozens of suspects without charges or access to council, not one person has been convicted in connection to that atrocity.

Rather than re-authorize the Patriot Act, Congress would spend its time more wisely looking for real solutions to terrorism and practical, constitutional ways to bolster American security.

It could start by eliminating competing interests and giving the new director of national intelligence the clout and political backing needed to truly end the competition and backbiting that still exists among the FBI, CIA and other members of the intelligence community.

As for the American people, we have a vital role in improving security in this nation by casting off fear and pledging to watch for and report any hint of terrorist activities.

A cooperative effort by our police and intelligence agencies, and the American people, can provide this nation with greater security, but it should be done in sync with the constitutional principles that have guided America since its inception.

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