Justice Department officials reported that the administration supports extending three key provisions of the Patriot Act that are due to expire at the end of the year. These items include the authority to access business records, monitor individual terrorists and conduct roving wiretaps. The administration is willing to consider additional privacy protections as long as they don’t weaken the effectiveness of the law.
I am gravely disappointed.
I am, politically, most accurately described as a libertarian, however, I’m definitely not a candidate for membership in the libertarian party. (Staunch stronghold of freeze-dried-whackaloons!) Philosophically, libertarians cover a wide spectrum, but tend to support strong personal rights to life and liberty, free market capitalism, private property rights, minimal government regulation, minimal taxation, and rejection of the welfare state, all within the context of the rule of law.
The Patriot Act, initially passed by a bipartisan majority just 45 days after the September 11, 2001 World Trade Center bombings, has been highly controversial.
The Cliff Notes version of the act is:
Title I: provides for enhanced domestic security services
Title II: expands availability and flexibility of surveillance procedures to law enforcement officials.
Title III: extends anti-money-laundering provisions to detect and prevent terrorism
Title IV: beefs up border security, the INS, and associated detention guidelines.
Title VI: provides aid to victims and families of victims of terrorism
Title VIII: redefines criminal law around terrorism, cyberterrorism and support activities
Title IX: establishes priorities for collection of foreign intelligence
Title X: adds miscellaneous provisions not covered under other sections
The primary arguments against the Patriot Act are that it:
- Expands terrorism laws to include “domestic terrorism” which could subject political organizations to surveillance, wiretapping, harassment, and criminal action for political advocacy.
- Expands the ability of law enforcement to conduct secret searches, gives them wide powers of phone and Internet surveillance, and access to highly personal medical, financial, mental health, and student records with minimal judicial oversight.
- Allows FBI Agents to investigate American citizens for criminal matters without probable cause of crime if they say it is for “intelligence purposes.”
- Permits non-citizens to be jailed based on mere suspicion and to be denied re-admission to the US for engaging in free speech. Suspects convicted of no crime may be detained indefinitely in six month increments without meaningful judicial review.
On September 11, I posted an update on Facebook, “I’m grateful for America’s freedom today.” Responses were mixed – some shared my gratitude, and some were dismayed at our eroding freedoms. My response?
You know, we may have lost some of our innocence and some of our perceived freedoms – I’ve written about my loathing for the Patriot Act and Guantanamo Bay before.
Still, I can post whatever I want here without getting thrown into jail. (Myanmar) I can protest for or against anything I want downtown without getting shot in cold blood. (China) I can wear whatever I like – and drive alone – and execute my own legal agreements. (Iran)
It may be far from perfect, and the pendulum has swung well toward paranoia since 9/11, but America is still my country and I’m still grateful.
Still, I’d have to agree, in principle, that our freedoms are eroding. We are losing our civil liberties and privacy. I’m neither a constitional law scholar nor a political analyst, and I can’t say where the line should be drawn. I do strongly feel that the Patriot Act is Orwellian and goes too far. I’d hoped for better from our current administration.