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Extending Key Patriot Act Provisions

Patriot ActOn October 13, 2001 New York Times writers Robin Toner and Neil Lewis headlined, "A NATION CHALLENGED: CONGRESS; House Passes Terrorism Bill Much Like Senate's, but With 5-Year Limit," saying:

The House gave "the government broad new powers for the wiretapping, surveillance and investigation of terrorism suspects. But in recognition of many lawmakers' fears of the potential for government overreaching and abuse, the House also included a five-year limit after which many of those powers would expire."

On October 26, George Bush signed it into law, prompting Center for Constitutional Rights senior litigation attorney Nancy Chang to ask, "What's So Patriotic About Trampling on the Bill of Rights?" saying:

"Over vigorous objections from civil liberties organizations on both ends of the political spectrum, Congress overwhelmingly approved the Uniting and Strengthening America by Providing Appropriate Tools Required to Intercept and Obstruct Terrorism Act, better known by its acronym, the USA PATRIOT Act."

In fact, the legislative process capitalized on a window of hysteria to grant unchecked executive powers. In the process, however, key Bill of Rights protections were lost or seriously eroded for the sake of security, including:

  • Fifth and Fourteen Amendment due process rights by permitting indefinite detentions of undocumented immigrants that can now apply to anyone anywhere in the world, including US citizens for any reason or none at all. 
  • First Amendment freedom of association rights that the Supreme Court considers an essential part of free expression. Now anyone may be charged and prosecuted for their alleged association with an "undesirable group."
  • Fourth Amendment protections from unreasonable searches and seizures. As a result, personal privacy rights were lost.
  • Authorized unchecked government surveillance powers to access personal records, monitor financial transactions, as well as student, medical and other records.

Henceforth, moreover, "sneak and peak" searches may be conducted through:

  • "delayed notice" warrants;
  • roving wiretaps;
  • email tracking; and
  • internet and cell phone use.

In addition:

  • Secret evidence may be obtained lawlessly and withheld from defense lawyers.
  • Immigrants may be denied their right to counsel if they're unable to provide their own.
  • Built-in safeguards are ended to let domestic criminal and foreign intelligence operations share information so CIA can now spy domestically.

For the first time, in fact, the Act also created the federal crime of "domestic terrorism," applicable to US citizens  as well as aliens. It states criminal law violations are considered domestic terrorist acts if they aim to "influence (government policy) by intimidation or coercion (or) intimidate or coerce a civilian population."

Henceforth, by this definition, anti-war or global justice demonstrations, environmental or animal rights activism, civil disobedience, and dissent of any kind may be called "domestic terrorism."

For example, in 2001, several prominent Americans engaged in civil disobedience on Vieques Island, Puerto Rico by unlawfully entering an airbase to protest against regular Pentagon military exercises, including bombings. It's now called domestic terrorism to influence government policy.

Under the Patriot Act's Section 806, with no hearing or notice, the government may confiscate or freeze all foreign and domestic assets of any individual, entity, or organization accused of engaging in, planning, supporting, concealing, or perpetrating any act called domestic or international terrorism against America - even by protesting nonviolently.

Other provisions are just as harsh, using vague language, giving authorities wide latitude to twist the law perversely and advantageously, targeting anyone for anything called terrorism, whether or not true.

Yet this far-reaching 342 page bill was passed quickly with virtually no public hearings, debates, conference or committee reports. Unprecedented in scope, it authorized sweeping executive powers, free from meaningful judicial and congressional oversight. 

Moreover, the Patriot Act was just for starters. Much more lay ahead with bipartisan complicity, legislating like a gift that keeps on giving. As a result, to this day, enacted police state measures subvert constitutional freedoms, including against First Amendment rights without which all others are at risk.

Congressional Agreement on Continued Police State Justice

In March 2006, Congress renewed most Patriot Act powers, and on May 19, 2011, congressional leaders agreed to extend three key provisions for another four years.

On May 20, AP writer Laurie Kellman headlined, "Top lawmakers agree to Patriot Act extension," saying:

"Top congressional leaders agreed Thursday to a four-year extension....call(ing) for a vote before May 27, when parts of the current act expire."

In fact, little debate is planned to assure swift passage. "The legislation would extend three expiring provisions until June 1, 2015...."

Doing so will meet administration demands for a "clean" extension with no concessions to concerns about civil liberty infringements.

Senate Majority and Minority Leaders Harry Reid (D. NV) and Mitch McConnell (R. KY), as well as House Speaker John Boehner (R. OH) arranged the deal. Reid then filed a May 19 cloture petition to force quick Senate passage, followed in the House before the May 27 deadline.

Under this procedure, only amendments submitted before cloture is invoked may be considered. However, according to the Congressional Research Service (CRS), "first-degree" amendments may be filed "on the day after the filing of the cloture petition, (and) second-degree amendments may be filed until at least one hour prior to the start of the cloture vote....(e)xcept by unanimous consent" as stipulated under Rule XXII.

Of concern are three provisions set to expire without extension:

(1) Allowing limitless use of roving wiretaps.

(2) Section 215, pertaining to alleged suspects, authorizing government access to "any tangible item," including financial records and transactions, student and medical records, phone conversations, emails, other Internet use, and whatever else is surveilled.

(3) Permitting alleged suspect organizations and individuals to be surveilled, whether or not evidence links them to terrorism or complicity to commit it. In other words, this amounts to unchecked police state powers to monitor anyone for any reason or none at all.

The ACLU Responds

On May 20, it urged concerned citizens to "Contract Congress Now Before it Deals Away Your Privacy Rights!" saying:

Despite popular and bipartisan opposition, Reid, McConnell and Boehner "made a back-room deal to reauthorize the Patriot Act for (another) four years, (containing) highly controversial surveillance provisions," one of which never was used (pertaining to "lone wolves").

The others, however, have "routinely been abused, so they ought to be reformed. But the proposed reauthorization fails to make any of the needed changes to the law. And it significantly reduces the possibility of real congressional oversight or government accountability for another four years."

As a result, the ACLU reiterated opposition to reauthorization, saying now is "the time for reform" to stop widespread civil liberty infringements.

In fact, domestic spying rose sharply under Obama, including by abusive National Security Letters (NSLs), permitting FBI and CIA officials to issue administrative subpoenas without probable cause or judicial oversight. They require targeted individuals or groups (on demand) to provide records, data or other requested information.

A Final Comment

Since taking office in January 2009, Obama exceeded George Bush's harshness, lawlessness, belligerency, and public trust betrayal, violating every major promise made.

Instead, he deferred solely to wealth and power interests at the expense of vital popular needs and rights, trashing democratic freedoms.

Extending Patriot Act provisions solidifies domestic repression at the same time America's imperial agenda denies democratic freedoms abroad - exposing a rogue president's hypocritical promise of change.

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