Wednesday, January 19, 2011

When the Sun Never Sets

The USA Patriot Act was signed into law by President George W. Bush in 2001. A big opportunistic anti-terrorist bill, it was proposed after the attacks on September 11, 2001, and of course, we were told the legislation would keep us safe.

Russ Feingold was the only Senator to vote against the bill. The rest of them, well, I doubt they even read it. It was called "The Patriot Act" after all. But here is what they were approving:
The Act dramatically reduced restrictions on law enforcement agencies' ability to search telephone, e-mail communications, medical, financial, and other records; eased restrictions on foreign intelligence gathering within the United States; expanded the Secretary of the Treasury’s authority to regulate financial transactions, particularly those involving foreign individuals and entities; and broadened the discretion of law enforcement and immigration authorities in detaining and deporting immigrants suspected of terrorism-related acts. The act also expanded the definition of terrorism to include domestic terrorism, thus enlarging the number of activities to which the USA PATRIOT Act’s expanded law enforcement powers can be applied.
Opponents of the law have criticized its authorization of indefinite detentions of immigrants; searches through which law enforcement officers search a home or business without the owner’s or the occupant’s permission or knowledge; the expanded use of National Security Letters, which allows the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) to search telephone, e-mail, and financial records without a court order; and the expanded access of law enforcement agencies to business records, including library and financial records. Since its passage, several legal challenges have been brought against the act, and Federal courts have ruled that a number of provisions are unconstitutional.
The concerns were well founded. It has since been revealed that the NSA, under the direction of George W. Bush, spied on everyone, specifically targeting journalists. Under President Obama, there hasn't been any change. Now we know that the FBI has even circumvented the minimal checks on their power when demanding telephone records.

Of course, we weren't to worry. The surveillance state was only temporary. There were "sunset provisions" in the Patriot Act. Many of the provisions were set to expire in 2005. The war on terror would be over by then, right? LOL.

The USA Patriot and Terrorism Prevention Reauthorization Act of 2005 was passed in July of that year. It was reauthorized again in 2006, and then, well, quite a history of reauthorizations follows, sometimes adding new measures for fighting terrorism or new powers for the Secret Service.

For some reason I was lead to believe that there would be no torture and no warrantless wiretapping under President Obama. But apparently executives rarely give up executive power.

In 2010 (you may have missed this), the Patriot Act with no reforms was extended again. You can find the final vote on the Office of the Clerk of the U.S. House of Representatives site. Yes, that is the correct link to the vote. It was weaseled into a bill titled "Medicare Physician Payment Reform Act." I'm not shitting you. The bill passed by Unanimous Consent.

The extension was only for a year though. Just one more year, yeah, right. Anyway, as you would guess, though hardly notice, the Patriot Act is up for renewal again. I don't expect anybody to make a fuss. Most people probably feel it doesn't apply to them. You don't need civil liberties until -- you know -- you actually have something unpopular to say.

The Patriot Act is anything but patriotic. Let the sun set.

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