The PATRIOT Act in the Crosshairs Again

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Who can be against anything entitled the PATRIOT Act? Well, for starters, anyone who truly values individual liberty and freedom should adamantly oppose this corruption of the American dream and ideal. Read the article below then let your representatives know that it is time to restore liberty in the USA and if they won’t listen, fire them.


The PATRIOT Act in the Crosshairs Again

by James Bovard
Freedom Daily

August 11, 2011

The most controversial provisions of the USA PATRIOT Act are coming up
for renewal this year. There is hope that Americans will finally learn
more about how the feds have been prying into their lives with this law
for almost a decade. Some members of Congress are fighting tooth and
nail to avoid giving the Justice Department an extension of its sweeping
PATRIOT Act powers.

The soul of the PATRIOT Act is blind trust in the arbitrary power of
federal agents and federal officials. The act treats every American
like a suspected terrorist and every federal agent like a proven angel.
When the law was originally considered in the weeks after 9/11, the Bush
administration’s steamroller persuaded the legislative branch of
government to largely cede both its own role and that of the judicial
branch in the American system of checks and balances. An ACLU report
issued just after George W. Bush signed the law noted that PATRIOT Act
provisions “create the illusion of judicial review while transforming
judges into mere rubber stamps. Under many of these provisions the judge
exercises no review function whatsoever; the court must issue an order
granting access to sensitive information upon mere certification by a
government official.” The ACLU warned that the PATRIOT Act
“misunderstands the role of the judicial branch of government; it treats
the courts as an inconvenient obstacle to executive action rather than
an essential instrument of accountability.”

Yet, when he signed the PATRIOT Act into law on October 26, 2001,
Bush proclaimed, “Today, we take an essential step in defeating
terrorism, while protecting the constitutional rights of all
Americans…. This bill met with an overwhelming — overwhelming
agreement in Congress, because it upholds and respects the civil
liberties guaranteed by our Constitution.” His assertion was ludicrous:
the vast majority of the PATRIOT Act’s avid supporters never showed any
interest in civil liberties. Almost all those members outspoken on civil
liberties opposed the bill. Bush’s ritual invocation of freedom was
merely an attempt to consecrate the new federal powers.

The Bush administration carried off the biggest bait and switch in
U.S. constitutional history. Rather than targeting terrorists, Bush and
Congress awarded new powers to federal agents to use against anyone
suspected of committing any one of the thousands of federal crimes on
the books. The PATRIOT Act is being used to target people accused of
money laundering, corruption, and other white-collar criminal
violations, as well as those accused of violating various porn or drug

The PATRIOT Act gave the feds the authority to financially
strip-search every American. Banks are now required to gather far more
information on their clients — their background, their sources of
income, their financial behavior, et cetera. All of these new roundups
of info caused by the PATRIOT Act should come with a formal warning to
citizens: any information the government gathers can and will be used
against you.

National Security Letters

In February, when Congress first debated the reauthorization of the
PATRIOT Act, one of the hot issues was Section 215. The advocates of
renewing the Act said that section dealt with “business information.”
That claim was full of hokum even by Washington standards.

Section 215 is similar to the PATRIOT Act provisions that empower
the FBI to use National Security Letters (NSLs) to compel private
citizens, businesses, nonprofits, and other entities to surrender
information upon demand. NSLs empower the FBI to seize records that
reveal “where a person makes and spends money, with whom he lives and
lived before, how much he gambles, what he buys online, what he pawns
and borrows, where he travels, how he invests, what he searches for and
reads on the Web, and who telephones or emails him at home and at work,”
the Washington Post noted.

The FBI is issuing up to 50,000 NSLs a year — a hundredfold increase
in the rate of such secret searches over the pre–9/11 era. Each NSL can
lasso the records of thousands of people. Every NSL is backed up by an
FBI badge, and every badge is backed up by a gun and by the world’s
largest law firm, the Justice Department.

National Security Letters turn the Fourth Amendment on its head by
creating a presumption that the government is entitled to personal or
confidential information unless the citizen or business can prove to a
federal judge that the Letter should not be enforced against him.

The Founding Fathers placed the Fourth Amendment in the Constitution
so that the federal government would have to provide specific
information suggesting criminal wrongdoing by a specific person prior to
the granting of a search warrant. The standard for these National
Security Letters is simply that an FBI agent fill out a form certifying
that he is seeking information that is relevant to an authorized
investigation. That is a “standard’ that almost any authoritarian
government in the world could meet. The FBI has a push-button to seize
practically any information it pleases.

But some FBI officials were not satisfied with the reach of the NSL
vacuum cleaner. Instead, beginning in 2004, they contrived other ways to
commandeer Americans’ personal information — simply by promising that
they would eventually send National Security Letters for the telephone
records or other information they demanded. They often didn’t even
bother sending such letters after snaring private information. A 2007
Inspector General report revealed that almost one-fourth of all NSLs —
tens of thousands of such letters — may have violated federal law.

If a private citizen hacked into the FBI computer database and
snared personal data on hundreds of FBI agents, he would be sentenced to
prison for several years. If a private citizen used false threats to
gain other citizens’ personal financial information from a bank, he
could be sent up the river for years.

However, no crimes were committed when FBI agents violated the law and seized citizens’ personal data.

Why? Because every federal violation of Americans’ privacy is by definition a harmless error.

Let’s keep in mind what happened when the PATRIOT Act’s most
controversial provisions were extended in 2006. The Bush administration
kept insisting that almost zero abuses had occurred, so there was no
reason not to extend the law. It turned out that thousands of abuses had
occurred — and top White House and Justice Department officials simply
lied to Congress about it.

Congressional failure

Back when the PATRIOT Act was first considered, we were told that it
was safe to vest all that power in federal agencies because Congress
would keep a close eye on how the power was used.

Congress has not brought honor upon itself in its dealings with the
Act. On the Senate side, Russ Feingold — the only senator to vote
against the Act — tried to keep an eye on how the powers were being used
— and that was a major factor in his defeat last November. Sen. Patrick
Leahy has worked for some oversight, but has been thwarted by both
parties in the Senate.

One of the big mysteries is that it is the Republican congressional
members who are pushing hardest for the PATRIOT Act to be extended. You
have the GOP stampeding to make sure that federal agencies under Obama
continue to have such vast surveillance powers. Why? Are the congressmen
simply in the habit of groveling every time some FBI official snaps his

One reason federal agencies cannot be trusted with PATRIOT Act
powers is that congressmen simply don’t give a damn when federal
agencies violate Americans’ privacy. As long as federal agents are not
flogging mothers on Main Street, Congress is not going to pay attention.
Don’t forget: the first reaction that congressmen had right after Waco
was to line up to have their photos taken with Janet Reno when she came
to testify on Capitol Hill.

Some people might say that that is ancient history. Only five years
ago, George W. Bush gave his State of the Union address a few weeks
after the New York Times had exposed warrantless wiretapping of
thousands of Americans. When he went up to Capitol Hill and bragged
about his “terrorist surveillance program,” almost all the GOP members
gave him a standing ovation.

And how do we know that
the people who were wiretapped were actually terrorists? The proof is in the fact that they were wiretapped.

The only way to reconcile a law like the PATRIOT Act with freedom is
to assume that unjustified government intrusions into people’s lives
are irrelevant to freedom — and that the government has not violated
anyone’s rights until it secretly arrests him, strips him of his
constitutional rights, and tosses him into Gitmo — or maybe Bagram.

The PATRIOT Act is symptomatic of a government out of control. A
democratic government that respects no limits on its own power is a
ticking time bomb, waiting to destroy the rights it was created to

America needs a higher grade of patriotism. It is not patriotic to
ignore violations of the Constitution. It is not patriotic to “look the
other way” when politicians ravage rights. It is not patriotic to
pretend that politicians are entitled to all the power they can grab, at
least until they get impeached or indicted. It is not patriotic to give
the benefit of the doubt to people trying to shackle you.

Getting rid of the PATRIOT Act is a small step towards making
government less dangerous and making Washington less noxious. We might
not be able to win this fight this year, but we can sure make it hot for
the rascals.

James Bovard is the author of Attention Deficit Democracy [2006] as well as The Bush Betrayal [2004], Lost Rights [1994] and Terrorism and Tyranny: Trampling Freedom, Justice and Peace to Rid the World of Evil (Palgrave-Macmillan, September 2003) and serves as a policy advisor
for The Future of Freedom Foundation. This article originally appeared in the May 2011 edition of Freedom Daily.

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