Unless the Patriot Act is stripped of its most dangerous parts, made more accountable and given another expiration date, Congress should not renew it. Debates may rage forever as to whether the act has stopped terrorists from penetrating U.S. shores since 9/11, but Americans can't afford to give away precious freedoms for a conflict that likely never will end.

Terrorism has been a subtext of international relations and internal struggles for more than a century now. Regardless of the fate of al-Qaida, there is little reason to believe desperate groups, whether they be radical environmentalists or fanatical ideologues, ever will abandon it as a tactic.

But hard-won constitutional freedoms are fragile and must be guarded.

A House-Senate compromise has been reached on the act, which will expire at the end of the year unless it is renewed. Among other things, it would require a yearly report to Congress on how the Justice Department uses it powers to secretly request the telephone and Internet records of ordinary people. It also would make the government demonstrate convincingly why it might need to snoop through private business records.

But the compromise leaves the act full of other provisions that raise concerns. For instance, the Justice Department still could obtain warrants for secret "sneak-and-peak" searches of private property without notifying the owner of the search. It also still would allow the government to obtain library records and financial and medical data on private people without much judicial review.

Six senators, three from each party, have vowed to do anything they can to keep this version from passing. The compromise takes away too many liberties, they say. Indeed, it does.

The United States was molded out of experience with the abuses of a monarch. The Constitution was written as a guarantee that people here would be protected against the natural inclination all governments have toward violating privacy and abusing power. The nation's history is one of continuous struggles to maintain an orderly society and to protect its shores without compromising liberty.

No one should underestimate the threats posed by al-Qaida. As recent attacks in Europe, Iraq and elsewhere show, they still consider the United States and its allies as enemies. The temptation always is there to turn the nation into a police state in order to straggle the enemy, but the Constitution protects the very things the terrorists wish to destroy.

Parts of the Patriot Act are reasonable and necessary. But the parts that place liberties in peril need to be excised or modified so as to provide guarantees against abuses. To argue that government has so far not abused the privileges granted in the act is little comfort. Unless the act is modified and given a new expiration date, it should not be renewed.