Tuesday, February 15, 2011

Patriot Action: Suspending the 4th Amendment

After the Republican House procedurally failed at their first attempt to have the Patriot Act extended, they succeeded and passed it with little debate. The bill now goes to the Senate and begs a very important question. Where is the oversight on this issue? The answer is, there isn’t any oversight. There is fear mongering, like the claim that our country is facing unprecedented threats both at home and abroad. What threats? Where at home? Where abroad?

The Patriot Act is the post-9/11 law created during the Bush/Cheney administration that violates the 4th Amendment’s ban on unreasonable searches and seizures. Its authorization is so broad that the government does not even have to specify the suspect’s name to get a warrant. It authorizes the following:

1. Examination of library and bookstore records of suspects, along with hard drives, tax documents and gun records, without being required to show probable cause

2. Roving wiretaps on a terror suspect without the government specifying the suspect’s name to get a warrant

3. Surveillance of so-called “lone wolf” suspects, permits secret intelligence surveillance of non-US persons who are not affiliated with a foreign organization. Although it has never been used, the Congress seeks to renew it without debate.

Additionally, National Security Letters (NSLs) permit the government to obtain the communication, financial and credit records of anyone deemed relevant to a terrorism investigation even if that person is not suspected of unlawful behavior.

The ACLU also offers a detailed look at how congress and the public “have yet to receive real information about how these [Patriot Act] powerful tools are being used to collect information on Americans.” The ACLU makes it easy for you to contact your Senator. Reasonable suspicion or probable cause before undertaking an investigation that infringes upon a person's privacy is suspended under the Patriot Act, which needs to expire.

The House vote came in and by a margin of 65, approved the Patriot Act extension. As the NY Times reported, “it is likely that the Senate will approve the House’s bill — putting off a larger debate over the provisions until later in the year.”

Or so we hope.

In the Senate, a bill proposed by Senator Dianne Feinstein (D-CA) would extend the provisions for three more years without new safeguards. Another bill by Senator Mitch McConnell (R-KY) would make the provisions I mentioned permanent. Although Senator Patrick Leahy (D-VT) offers a bill that would add several safeguards, it also extends the expiring provisions in the Patriot Act through 2013.

Some have argued that it is like the tree falling in the woods with no one around and asking if it makes a sound. The tree’s falling creates a disturbance whether anyone is around to hear it or not. Moreover, the use of such a postulation demonstrates a lack of understanding of the issue, if not ignorance.

If you pardon the reference, the issue is clear cut. First, The right of the people to be secure in their persons, houses, papers, and effects, against unreasonable searches and seizures, shall not be violated,” which the Patriot Act allows, especially whether or not a person knows it. Second, “no warrants shall issue, but upon probable cause, supported by oath or affirmation, and particularly describing the place to be searched, and the persons or things to be seized,” which the Patriot Act authorizes.

Of course many English colonists, perhaps even a majority, asked the same question, “Why get worked up over things that only theoretically threaten liberty?” No one asked you to concern yourself about the “right of the people” or civil liberties at all. The Constitution takes care of that, whether or not you know it.

While many writers are concerned with pontificating about Egypt, a subject vastly beyond their understanding, concern about their own liberties go ignored. To keep our eye on the ball, compromising our constitution affects us more than current events abroad in Africa. Egypt now has no constitution. Its military accomplished that. It is our Bill of Rights that is threatened here at home by our Congress that demands our concern.

The reason for concern is as the American Civil Liberties Union motto states, “Because Freedom Can’t Protect Itself.”

1 comment:

Tommy "Mack" McEldowney said...

The Senate approved a three month extension of the PATRIOT Act, by an 86-12 vote, but the guy listening to your calls could have told you that.

The chambers now face the pressure of reaching a compromise before Congress goes into recess next week.

Let's keep our eye on the ball.