Sunday, June 12, 2005

The New Patriot Act

"You have the right to free speech - as long as you’re not dumb enough to actually try it."
- The Clash, These Are Your Rights

President George W. Bush

The broader powers given to government, police and law authorities by the USA Patriot Act were promised to be temporary. Now the President wants them, and further ammendments, to become permanent.

"My message to Congress is clear: The terrorist threats against us will not expire at the end of the year, and neither should the protections of the Patriot Act. The Patriot Act has not diminished American liberties; the Patriot Act has helped to defend American liberties."

It's a good thing he cleared that up. I was a tad concerned for a moment. The reality is that the Bush administration's attempts to expand and broaden the federal government's powers with the USA Patriot Act should concern all americans. I hope they are paying attention. Rights are more easily lost than regained.

The law itself expires - and with good reason - at the end of this year. Legislation to renew 16 provisions of the law, and several disturbing ammendments proposed by the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence, is progressing through Congress.

That committee's ammendments include:

  1. Allowing the FBI to issue "administrative subpoenas" to collect evidence in terrorism cases without going to a judge.
  2. Allowing the Justice Department to gather information under the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act and it's secret provisions allowing for a criminal prosecution.
  3. Make it easier for the FBI to get copies of personal mail.
  4. Greater powers of search and seizure allowing law enforcement officers to search homes and businesses without a warrant or notifying the owners.
  5. Extends protections for internet service providers who voluntarily turn over e-mails to law enforcement without the fear of civil lawsuits from their customers.
  6. Allowing the attorney general to issue subpoenas for business records, including medical, financial and gun, hotel, and education documents, without the target's permission.
  7. Allowing the FBI to access your library borrowing records.
But americans would know if their rights were being violated, or if they were under investigation, or if the state regarded them a terrorist, right? Wrong. The law prevents those who have been, or are, the subject of a search from knowing about it because the law requires that these searches be kept secret (in the interest of national security, of course). But don't worry, your boss, your doctor, your librarian, your financial institution, your internet service provider, your mailman, your university and your travel agent might know. Oh, and you'd know when you were arrested, although you might not be told on what grounds.

"When lawmakers seek to rewrite our Fourth Amendment rights, they should at least have the gumption to do so in public. Americans have a reasonable expectation that their federal government will not gather records about their health, their wealth and the transactions of their daily life without probable cause of a crime and without a court order."
- Lisa Graves, ACLU senior counsel for legislative strategy

Land of the Free my butt. More like the "Land of the Little Less Free Everyday But Not Noticing It."

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