Patriot Act: Protecting You From Freedom And Democracy

On Tuesday, Congress is voting on the renewal of three key provisions of the Patriot Act. There is nothing patriotic about the Patriot Act, unless you define patriotism as the passivity of citizens  giving  up their own civil liberties for the illusion of “security” under the constant  intrusive eyes of an Orwellian Big Brother government. Last year, on February 25,2010 Congress passed, with a wide majority, a one year extension on the three controversial provisions without making some much needed amendments to the overreaching bill which has, de facto, transformed the United States into a police state.

Despite the window dressing amendments made to the Patriot Act since it was enacted shortly after 9/11/2001, the public has not yet received any real information about how the Patriot Act is being implemented to collect information on Americans. Vague legal language, opacity and secrecy are the key ingredients of the sweeping powers given to the government’s executive branch by the Patriot Act. The Patriot Act creates a surveillance superstructure without any meaningful protections for civil liberties. The three provisions, which Congress is about to extend, give the government unlimited power to spy on individuals inside the US without any suspicion of wrongdoing.

All three provisions are a blatant case of government overreach, and are a clear and present danger to the essence of democracy. The three provisions in question, which should be scrapped all together, are Section 215, Section 206, and Section 6001 of the bill.

The Section 215 of the Patriot Act authorizes the government to obtain “any tangible thing” in connection with a terrorism investigation. The notion of “thing” is of course vague and ill-defined, and doesn’t have to pertain to suspected terrorist activities. This provision allows the government to start an investigation infringing on a person’s privacy without the requirement to show probable cause or even reasonable suspicion.

The Section 206, known as “roving John Doe wiretap”, allows the government to wiretap either a person or a facility without reasonable cause or the need to identify the person before obtaining an intelligence surveillance order. In other words, Section 206 permits roving wiretap without the requirement to name a specific target.

The Section 6001, also known as the “Lone Wolf” provision, permits secret intelligence surveillance of non-US persons who are not affiliated with a foreign organization. This section is a clear abuse of the government’s investigatory power within the borders of the United States, and is also in breach of international laws.

Another disturbing part of the Patriot Act, which will continue, is the use of National Security Letters (NSLs). National Security Letters allow the government to obtain communications, financial information, and credit records of anyone “deemed relevant to a terrorism investigation” even if that person is not suspected of unlawful actions. Tens of thousands of these letters are issued every year. The NSLs come with a gag order which prevent a court from determining whether the gag is necessary to protect national security.

Congress will surely extend the three provisions today, and most Americans will not even notice. For almost ten years, the Patriot Act has given the government unlimited legal options to pry into all aspects of our lives. Most Americans are still buying into the fear-mongering and scare tactics promoted by both Democrats and Republicans, with very few exceptions such as Ron Paul. The Patriot Act was sold to the public as an indispensable tool to protect US national security, while in fact it is a dangerously intrusive instrument gutting our civil liberties and assaulting the core principles of a democratic system.

Editor’s Note: Surprisingly, the bill failed 277-148, just seven votes shy of passing on a fast track with 26 Republicans voting NO. But of course, the bill will end up passing. Lamar Smith is planning to bring it back for a vote under the normal slow track process. It will give opponents a chance to offer amendments, but the passage of the extension is assured due to today’s heavy majority in favor.


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