The House voted Thursday to extend permanently virtually all the major antiterrorism provisions of the USA Patriot Act after beating back efforts by Democrats and some Republicans to impose new restrictions on the government’s power to eavesdrop, conduct secret searches and demand library records.
The legislation, approved 257 to 171, would make permanent 14 of the 16 provisions in the law that were set to expire at the end of this year. The remaining two provisions – giving the government the power to demand business and library records and to conduct roving wiretaps – would have to be reconsidered by Congress in 10 years.
The House version of the legislation essentially leaves intact many of the central powers of the antiterrorism act that critics had sought to scale back, setting the stage for what could be difficult negotiations with the Senate, which is considering several very different bills to extend the government’s counterterrorism powers under the act.
One version, approved unanimously Thursday by the Senate Judiciary Committee, would impose greater restrictions on the government’s powers.
But a competing bill passed last month by the intelligence committee would broaden the government’s powers by allowing the Federal Bureau of Investigation to demand records in terrorism investigations without a judge’s order and to have sole discretion in monitoring the mail of some terrorism suspects. That proposal has the strong backing of the Bush administration.
In the House, a daylong debate about the Patriot Act turned into a referendum on the Bush administration’s antiterrorism policies, as lawmakers sought to calibrate the proper balance between protecting national security and ensuring civil liberties.
I am not against the Patriot Act per se, but I am against making it permanent. I see no reason why it should not be revisited every 5 years, if for no other reason than to ascertain the effectiveness and necessity of the measures contained within the Act.
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– Order any person or entity to turn over “any tangible things,” so long as the FBI specifies that the order is part of an authorized terrorism or intelligence investigation.
– Obtain personal data, including medical records, without any specific facts connecting those records to a foreign terrorist.
– Prohibit doctors and insurance companies from disclosing to their patients that their medical records have been seized by the government.
– Obtain library and book store records, including lists of books checked out, without any specific facts connecting the records to a foreign agent or terrorist.
– Obtain private financial records without a court order, and without notification to the person involved.
– Conduct intelligence investigations of both United States citizens and permanent residents without probable cause, or even reasonable grounds to believe that they are engaged in criminal activity or are agents of a foreign power.
– Investigate U.S. citizens based in part on their exercise of their First Amendment rights, and non-citizens based solely on their exercise of those rights. (Naturally, decisions about what constitutes “in part” are left to a secret court, meeting secretly.)
– Those served with Section 215 orders are prohibited from disclosing that fact to anyone — even their attorney. (This provision was struck down by a U.S. district court last year.)
Suffice it to say, I am against everyone of these provisions. You can whine “But John, we are at warrrrr” until your damned face turns blue. You can bash the ACLU to your heart’s desire. You can tell me “I just don’t get it” as many times as you want. You can give me as many specious arguments about freedom and “democracies needing to defend themselves” until the cows come home. You can issue as many non-threatening platitudes about ” just giving authorities the tools they need’ from now until the end of time. I refuse to support this nonsense. This is un-American. Period.