A month after the September 11, 2001, terror attacks, with half the Senators shut out of their offices due to anthrax-powdered letters1x2, the United States Congress passed the “USA PATRIOT“ Act3, which boosted the government’s surveillance power. If you can’t imagine that the PATRIOT Act would affect you, imagine that you have a cousin who belongs to People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals (PETA). Since the PATRIOT Act was passed, the FBI has used some of its counterterrorism resources to watch PETA and other peaceful domestic political groups4. Under the PATRIOT Act, the government could6:
- get a court order to wire tap for an unknown target and end up reading your cousin’s email from the tapped location,
- get a “sneak and peek” court order to search your cousin’s home while she’s away without ever notifying her,
- get a court order to secretly obtain any of your cousin’s records (including library records) without saying what it suspects her of, and
- secretly obtain third-party records, such as your cousin’s phone & ISP bills and consumer credit reports, without a court order (by “national security letter”).
- particularly describe the target when unknown to get a wire tap order,
- notify your cousin within seven days of a “sneak and peek” search of her home,
- show facts that your cousin is a suspected terrorist or in contact with a suspected terrorist, before obtaining her records, and
- submit to a US district court’s decision to quash or modify the national security letter if it violates any constitutional or other legal right or privilege.
But the House of Representatives’ version did not include those checks6; nor did the House-Senate conference bill7, which was brought to the floor without the vote of a single Democratic conferee8. Senator Russ Feingold (D-WI), the only Senator to vote against the original PATRIOT act12, led a filibuster to stop the conference bill9. Four Republicans and all but two Democrats joined to sustain the filibuster and block the bill10. Congress has extended the original PATRIOT Act for five weeks11, during which it will have another chance to include the Senate safeguards.
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Today’s Quote: “Necessity is the plea for every infringement of human freedom. It is the argument of tyrants; it is the creed of slaves.” – William Pitt, 1783
1 ‘Anthrax clean-up in senator’s office’, BBC, 1 December, 2001 ‘Nearby streets were closed to traffic as fumigators used chlorine dioxide gas to neutralise anthrax spores. These were found in a contaminated letter, forcing the authorities to shut the building seven weeks ago.’ … ‘He said it was not yet known when the Senate’s Hart building would re-open.’
2 ‘Hart Senate Office Building Decontaminated’ by STEVE RITTER, Chemical & Engineering News ‘The Hart Building, home to 50 senators, had the highest exposure to spores and presented the greatest challenge.’
4 New Documents Show FBI Targeting Environmental and Animal Rights Groups Activities as ‘Domestic Terrorism’ – ACLU ‘The ACLU said that the documents released today on Greenpeace, People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals (PETA) and the American-Arab Anti-Discrimination Committee (ADC) show the FBI expanding the definition of “domestic terrorism” to include citizens and groups that participate in lawful protests or civil disobedience.’
5 ‘PATRIOT Act Overview’ – Center for Democracy and Technology ‘List of expiring provisions: The PATRIOT Act itself does not sunset – of over 150 provisions in the PATRIOT Act, only 16 provisions are covered by the sunset. Some of those covered are uncontroversial, while some of the most controversial provisions in the Act are not slated to sunset. The sunset does not apply to pending investigations. The sunset date is December 31, 2005.”
8 ‘Agreement puts Patriot Act in line for vote — or filibuster’ by Charles Babington, Dan Eggen, Washington Post, December 9, 2005 ‘No Democratic negotiators in the House or Senate embraced the bill that emerged from the conference committee, and a bipartisan group of senators complained that the proposed revisions do too little to protect the civil liberties of innocent Americans.’
9 “Remarks on Ending Debate on Reauthorization of the USA Patriot Act
by US Sen. Russ Feingold, Dec. 16, 2005″:http://www.commondreams.org/views05/1216-29.htm ‘We have stayed together ever since our bill was first introduced. We knew the time would come when we would have to take a stand. And now we have. We are united today, as we were then. This is not a partisan issue. This is an American issue. This is a constitutional issue. We can come together to give the government the tools it needs to fight terrorism and protect the rights and freedoms of innocent citizens. And we can do that before the end of this year. But first, we must keep this inadequate conference report from becoming law by voting No on cloture.’
10 ‘ Senate Rejects Extension of Patriot Act’ by Jesse J. Holland, AP ‘Five Republicans voted against the reauthorization: Chuch Hagel of Nebraska, Lisa Murkowski of Alaska, John Sununu of New Hampshire, Craig and Frist. Two Democrats voted to extend the provisions: Sens. Tim Johnson of South Dakota and Ben Nelson of Nebraska. Frist, R-Tenn., changed his vote at the last moment after seeing the critics would win. He decided to vote with the prevailing side so he could call for a new vote at any time.’
11 ‘Senate inks one-month Patriot Act extension’ – RAW STORY, 12/22/2005 ‘Without debate today, the House acted to extend controversial provisions in the USA PATRIOT ACT to February 3, 2006 — five months short of the deadline approved by the Senate earlier this week. In the Senate — with just a single senator present — the measure passed without objection. Only Sen. John Warner (R-VA) was present at the bill’s passage. Congress can pass bills in either chamber so long as no member objects.’
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