I could not agree more with John Stuart Mill’s ‘Harm Principle’ and by this logic, policies like Patriot Act may be acceptable in a society striving for freedom. But in case of extreme measures like Patriot Act, the burden falls upon the government to demonstrate that the expected benefits will exceed the potential costs such as limitations to individual liberty. Harm Principle makes sense because individuals are part of the society and as such they have certain obligations towards fellow citizens one of which is protecting fellow citizens from undue harm.
The society has no job of telling an individual what is good or bad for him for as long as the consequences remain limited to the individual but the society does have a right to interfere when the consequences of individual actions unfairly affect others. One can drink alcohol within the privacy of his home or in a public place for as long as his actions do not impose costs on others. But the society prohibits such individuals from getting behind wheels because driving under the influence unfairly exposes others to harm’s way. Similarly, there are laws in certain places such as prohibition on smoking in public places because of the costs of secondhand smoking.
Rights like liberty and freedom of speech are important and are the foundations of democratic societies but the government’s main job is to advance the overall interests of the society. If limiting a certain right results in greater benefits than costs, the government has a moral obligation to proceed with such course of actions. But the government should be careful to avoid extreme measures like Patriot Act unless absolutely necessary since they encroach upon some of the most fundamental individual rights.