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Posts Tagged ‘USA Patriot Act’

6th February 2011

Those who read this blog frequently may have noticed that the administration has been keeping track of the proposed extension to the so-called “Patriot Act.” It appears that there are efforts being made on Capitol Hill to streamline the passage of a bill which would extend this important Act. To quote directly from a recent article on RT.com a Russian News Source for global news:

Now that the major provisions of the Act are about to expire, the US Senate’s Judiciary Committee is in a real hurry to rubberstamp the extension of the Act rather than discuss and debate the far-reaching measures.

As the US Senator Dianne Feinstein of California put it “They expire in three weeks and I think there’s no time really to go into the changes.”

Let’s take a look at the above quotation for a moment. The Senator would appear to be saying that the bill should be passed “as is” without significant discussion due to the fact that there is “no time” for any discussion. Doesn’t this conflict with the fact that within the same quotation the Senator notes that there are three weeks left before the Patriot Act expires? How then is there “no time” to discuss the bill, when there are in fact approximately 3 weeks left to discuss the bill? This blog posting was not written to discuss the details of the Patriot Act, but instead to discuss the issue of what appears to be legislative shirking. In recent history there have been several examples of a disturbing trend within the Federal Legislature. Namely, the notion that bills coming before said legislature which have incredible ramifications for the American people and the Institutions that make up the American way of life should be “passed first and discussed later”. RT.com delves into this issue further:

There was ‘no time’ either for real debate back in 2001, when the Patriot Act was adopted weeks after the 9/11 attacks.

According to Congressman Dennis J. Kucinich of Ohio, the lawmakers had not even read what they were passing.

“What happened once the Patriot Act was passed, the Fourth Amendment right – to be protected from unreasonable searching was just thrown out.”

To provide clarity to the reader, Congressman Kucinich is referring to the Constitutional Rights guaranteed under the 4th amendment to the United States Constitution which, to quote from Wikipedia, states:

The right of the people to be secure in their persons, houses, papers, and effects, against unreasonable searches and seizures, shall not be violated, and no Warrants shall issue, but upon probable cause, supported by Oath or affirmation, and particularly describing the place to be searched, and the persons or things to be seized.

RT.com continues:

The Congressman was one of the very few who openly opposed the Act.

“We have a challenge to the essence of democracy with the very existence of the Patriot Act,” Denis Kucinich warns. “And of course its name – the Patriot Act – who would want to oppose the Patriot Act, because it makes it sound as though you’re a patriot if you are for it. But actually the idea of tying patriotism to the destruction of cherished constitutional privileges needs in itself to be challenged.”

This blogger does not point this out in an effort to criticize Mr. Kucinich, but strictly speaking pursuant to the plain language of the 4th Amendment to the United States Constitution, as quoted above, the freedom from unreasonable searches and seizures is a RIGHT, not a privilege. Those reading this posting who would accuse this blogger of being overly interested in semantics should note that there is a substantial distinction between rights and privileges in jurisprudence. As usual, Wikipedia turns out to have the most concise synopsis of the differences between rights and privileges in layman’s terms. To quote directly from Wikipedia’s entry on the issue of rights vs. privileges:

A privilege is a special entitlement to immunity granted by the state or another authority to a restricted group, either by birth or on a conditional basis. It can be revoked in certain circumstances. In modern democratic states, a privilege is conditional and granted only after birth. By contrast, a right is an inherent, irrevocable entitlement held by all citizens or all human beings from the moment of birth.

The above digression is not intended to be a jab against Mr. Kucinich as his use of the term privilege was likely unintentional. Instead, this digression was an attempt to elucidate the importance of the distinction between rights and privileges.

To get back to the issue of the Federal Legislature’s apparent reluctance to discuss the Patriot Act extension on the basis of “time constrains” the question must be posed: what is the United States Senate’s job if it is not to discuss pending legislation? According to the website senate.gov, United States Senators are paid 174,000 USD per annum. To quote another page from senate.gov:

Members of Congress are eligible for a pension at age 62 if they have completed at least five years of service. They are eligible for a pension at age 50 if they have completed 20 years of service, or at any age after completing 25 years of service. The amount of the pension depends on years of service and the average of the highest three years of salary. By law, the starting amount of a member’s retirement annuity may not exceed 80 percent of his or her final salary.

The compensation of United States Senators is not really the crux of this posting, but the above cited figures are noted in an effort to show that US Senators are not uncompensated for their service to the United States of America. This begs the question: what are they compensated for? The short answer: to legislate, which includes discussing pending legislation or proposed extensions to previously enacted legislation! In many ways, the United States Senate was specifically designed to be a deliberative body which would slowly and intelligently scrutinize proposed legislation, or to quote US Senator John Kyl on senate.gov:

George Washington likened the House to hot tea, and the Senate was the “saucer” that cooled it.

Clearly, the Senate’s raison d’etre is to do exactly the opposite of what Senator Feinstein has suggested. Instead of acting as a “rubber stamp” the Senate is to be the great “scrutinizer” of proposed legislation. It should be noted that this is not the first instance in recent American history that expedience has been cited as a valid reason for railroading through legislation with little or no scrutiny. To cite just one example: the bailout legislation. To quote Representative Brad Sherman from California when discussing said legislation on the House floor:

The only way they can pass this bill is by creating and sustaining a panic atmosphere. That atmosphere is not justified. Many of us were told in private conversations that if we voted against this bill on Monday, that the sky would fall, the Market would drop two or three thousand points the first day-another couple thousand the second day-and a few members were even told that there would be martial law in America if we voted no. That’s what I call fearmongering. Unjustified. Proven wrong. We’ve got a week, we’ve got two weeks to write a good bill. The only way to pass a bad bill: keep the panic pressure on.

Clearly, Representative Sherman was not a supporter of the “legislate first, ask questions later” philosophy. That said, the financial legislation that resulted in the banking bailouts would appear to have been, at least partially, the result of high pressure tactics utilized by those hoping to see that legislation’s passage. What was the result of passing such important legislation without careful analysis? Significant amounts of money allocated as a result of the bailouts has not been accounted for and many Americans have noted their disapproval of the way in which public funds were allocated. Meanwhile, the economy continues to be turbulent. Prior to the passage of the bailout bill, expediency was one of the major themes trumpeted by those in support of the legislation’s passage. In the aftermath of the bill’s passage there are many who wonder if it might not have been better to have taken a more deliberate approach toward that legislation.

Federal legislators’ seeming lack of enthusiasm about discussing the extension of the Patriot Act comes on the heels of recent announcements that Federal agencies such as the Federal Bureau of Investigation appear to have violated the civil rights of a substantial number of Americans during the last decade. To quote directly from the Electronic Frontier Foundation’s official website eff.org:

EFF has uncovered widespread violations stemming from FBI intelligence investigations from 2001 – 2008. In a report released today, EFF documents alarming trends in the Bureau’s intelligence investigation practices, suggesting that FBI intelligence investigations have compromised the civil liberties of American citizens far more frequently, and to a greater extent, than was previously assumed.

The Patriot Act was signed into law on October 26, 2001. There are some who may infer that the passage of the Patriot Act is linked to the apparent violations which have been discovered by EFF.org. Those interested in the the full story on the apparent violations allegedly perpetrated by the FBI are encouraged to check out the full story on EFF.org.

Readers should note that this blogger believes that there is room for debate on any issue which is being proposed for passage by the US Congress and that all Americans are entitled to their opinion regarding the Patriot Act, or any other law for that matter. However, failure to properly vet legislation prior to passage by the US House and Senate should be alarming to anyone no matter what the subject matter of the proposed legislation may be. The following is quoted from a recent article posted on the Voices section of the official website of the Washington Post, WashingtonPost.com:

The Sensenbrenner bill [The House's version of the proposed Patriot Act Extension Bill] is expected to easily pass the Republican-led House next week. The measure would then go on to the Senate, which will be in recess the latter part of next week. The Senate would next be able to take up the bill when it comes back during the week of Feb. 14.

Both chambers are in recess during the week of Feb. 21 for the President’s Day holiday, and by the day they come back — Feb. 28 — the provisions will have already expired.

That means that if the Senate doesn’t act on the House-passed legislation during the week of Feb. 14, the provisions would either expire or both chambers might be forced to call a pro-forma session during their President’s Day recess.

Again, the implication of this quote would seem to suggest that there is not a great deal of time to pass this legislation. In reality, at the time of this writing there are 22 days left before the expiration of the Patriot Act. If the House or Senate is required to come out of recess or forgo a vacation in order to facilitate debate or discussion on a bill that has a dramatic impact upon the rights of US Citizens wouldn’t that be a good thing? After all, isn’t that what legislators are paid to do? Again, the substance of the Patriot Act is not the main point of this article. Instead, this post is written in an attempt to point out the apparently recent habit of the US legislature to enact important legislation with little or no discussion or debate in the name of expedience.

It should be noted that President Barack Obama in conjunction with the previous Congress authorized a previous extension to the Patriot Act in February of 2010. To quote directly from the website ThatsMyCongress.com:

Yesterday, to top it off, the Democratic-controlled U.S. Senate passed a reauthorization of Patriot Act provisions without any reform to them. This passage was made via voice vote, a move for secrecy so that no one could track the vote of a specific senator on the issue. The vote to make American citizens’ private lives transparent to the U.S. Government was made in a way to make American senators’ votes opaque to U.S. citizens.

The 2008 promise by Democrats to reform warrantless wiretapping, intrusive surveillance, restore constitutional protections, reject national security letters and reform the Patriot Act has not simply been forgotten. The promise has been broken.

Again, to reiterate, any piece of legislation that would allow the government to gain access to “any tangible thing” during an investigation is, by virtually anyone’s estimation, an important piece of legislation. Therefore, in extending such legislation shouldn’t there at least be discussion? One would think.

For related information please see: Patriot Act Extension.

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1st February 2011

In recent days this blogger has been reading a great deal about both the proposed extension of the USA PATRIOT ACT and the proposed “Internet Kill Switch” which would allow Federal authorities to unilaterally shut down the internet services in much the same way that Egyptian authorities have restricted the access to internet services in Egypt. The first issue is the extension of the Patriot Act. Notwithstanding what appears to be broad popular support calling for the repeal or “sunsetting” of the Patriot Act, lawmakers on Capitol Hill continue to push for a further extension of this questionably Constitutional piece of legislation. To quote directly from a piece on the RawStory.com website:

Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman Patrick Leahy (D-VT) introduced legislation to the Senate Wednesday that would extend expiring provisions of the controversial PATRIOT Act.

“Congress now faces a deadline to take action on the expiring provisions of the USA PATRIOT Act,” Sen. Leahy said in a statement. “The USA PATRIOT Act Sunset Extension Act of 2011 will preserve law enforcement and intelligence techniques that are set to expire on February 28, 2011, and extend them to December 2013.”

The legislation, titled “The USA PATRIOT Act Sunset Extension Act of 2011,” would extend the roving wiretap provisions, the “lone wolf” measure and the “library records” provision. The provisions allow authorities to conduct surveillance without identifying the person or location to be wiretapped, permits surveillance of “non-US” persons who are not affiliated with a terrorist group, and lets the government gain access to “any tangible thing” during investigations, respectively.

Roving wire taps, library records surveillance, access to “any tangible thing” during an investigation, the question must be posed: is this really what is best for the United States of America? The USA was founded upon principles which run completely counter to all of these notions. Furthermore, vague definitions in bills such as the Patriot Act (eg. “any tangible thing”) makes this blogger think back to a time in the United Kingdom when blank warrants were utilized as a circumvention by authorities to search people without probable cause. Again, those who follow United States politics and policy with any kind of regularity must have noticed what appears to be a movement toward a more authoritarian regime in Washington D.C. Why do the American people need to continue to be placed under a regime of such heavy surveillance and scrutiny with no definitive end? Yes, there are threats in the world today, but it has always been America’s ability to remain free in spite of war, terrorism, and general unrest that, if anything, once made the American people “exceptional”. In much the same way that the British pride their “stiff upper lip” so too did Americans once prize their self-reliance and liberty. Why are these principles being undermined by the very lawmakers who have sworn to protect and defend the US Constitution?

Meanwhile, as the Patriot Act extension awaits Congressional approval, it appears that a bill may be proposed which would give Federal authorities the ability to unilaterally shut down the internet and thereby deprive the citizenry of free access to open source information the likes of which can sometimes only be found online. To quote directly from a recent piece on the website DailyMail.co.uk:

While the Egyptian government has drawn international criticism for shutting down internet and mobile phone access during civil unrest, it might alarm many Americans to learn that Barack Obama may soon have the same powers.

Lawmakers are set to debate a controversial new plan to give the President the power to shut down the Internet in case of a cyber emergency.

The proposal is certain to meet opposition, but Senator Susan Collins, the co-sponsor of the bill, insisted today that the legislation would not be used for censorship.

This bill, referred to currently as the Protecting Cyberspace as a National Asset Act of 2010 has yet to be voted upon by the American legislature. Thus far, this blogger has yet to find any concrete definition of what would constitute a “cyber emergency”. According to OpenCongress.org the bill:

Creates the Office of Cyberspace Policy and National Center for Cybersecurity and Communications to set standards and coordinate cybersecurity efforts within the government. Gives the NCCC broad powers over “critical infrastructure” in the case of a “national cyber emergency” (as declared by the President).

There would seem to be a great deal of controversy surrounding this bill which may be most concisely summed up by quoting from an excerpt in Wikipedia.org‘s entry on the subject:

Senator Lieberman [The Senator who proposed the legislation] has been criticized for giving the President the power to use a “kill switch” which would shut off the Internet. He has called these accusations “total misinformation” and said that “the government should never take over the Internet”.[3] Lieberman further inflamed skeptics when he cited China’s similar policy in a backfired attempt to show the policy’s normalcy.[4] However, the bill would allow the President to enact “emergency measures” in the case of a large scale cyber attack.[2] The original bill granted the US President the authority to shut down part of the internet indefinitely, but in a later amendment the maximum time for which the President could control the network was reduced to 120 days. After this period, the networks will have to be brought up, unless Congress approves an extension.

The question must be posed: is the controversy surrounding this bill legitimate or simply “misinformation”? Clearly under such a scheme, as stated above, the President would have some sort of “Emergency Powers” over the internet pursuant to the language of this bill. What is most ominous to this blogger is the notion that abridgment of freedom (both online and in the real world) is okay so long as it only occurs in 120 day spurts. Furthermore, at first blush, the provisions regarding restriction and Congressional extension would seem to mitigate the rather broad powers being granted to the President and the Federal government, but, in this blogger’s opinion, these measures are chimerical as can be seen by the Congressional actions which have consistently resulted in extension of the Patriot Act (a bill which also had sunset provisions, but provided Congress with the ability to make extensions). Does the American Constitution and Bill of Rights not clearly state that those enumerated powers not expressly granted to the Federal government are to remain with the States and the People respectively? If so, then why has the Federal government continued to usurp, or in the case of the “kill switch,” attempted to usurp; State and individual rights to liberty and the free access to information? In fact, it would seem that this bill is expressly intended to obstruct the free flow of information during a time of crisis, which some would argue, is the exact time when people would need such information the most. Perhaps the reasoning behind this bill cannot be fully discussed within the confines of this blog post, but readers can still ponder these questions while researching these issues.

Finally, the most noticeable aspect of both of these seemingly unrelated pieces of legislation is the use of the idea “Congressional Extensions” to act as a salve to those initially opposed to passage of such legislation. The notion that dramatic abridgment of liberty is permissible so long as Congress has to continually re-adjudicate the extension of such abridgment is simply ridiculous. In fact, such a statutory scheme would seem to simply make Congress a periodic accomplice to the abrogation of American State Sovereignty and individual personal freedoms. The Patriot Act has continued to be extended long after the date upon which it was originally supposed to expire and these extensions were permitted by a Democratic Congress. Bear in mind that a Republican President and Congress promulgated the PATRIOT ACT in the first place. Clearly, the notions of personal liberty and freedom of access to information are issues which transcend political party. As Congress continues to pass more questionably Constitutional legislation it is the job of the American people make informed decisions regarding whom they elect to office and it may also be incumbent upon Americans to understand their rights and understand the myriad ways in which such rights can be infringed by the Federal authorities.

For related information please see: 5 Worst Laws in American History.

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