Integrity Legal

Posts Tagged ‘Patriot Act Extension’

1st June 2011

It recently came to this blogger’s attention that the administration of President Barack H. Obama is poised to take a more commonsensical approach to issues pertaining to United States Immigration. In order to shed further light upon this issue it may be best to quote directly from an article entitled New Common-Sense Immigration Reforms to Strengthen Our Economy written by Aneesh Chopra & Alejandro Mayorkas and posted on the White House blog at

President Obama recently reaffirmed the urgent need to fix our broken immigration system, so that America can compete and win in the 21st century.  Immigrants make extraordinary contributions to our economic well-being, as demonstrated in study after study. For evidence, you can turn to recent analyses from the Treasury Department, the bipartisan Partnership for a New American Economy, or the U.S. Chamber of Commerce.

Or simply visit Silicon Valley.  Aneesh participated in a roundtable yesterday hosted by the Silicon Valley Leadership Group where nearly half of the executives in the room were immigrants. They were unanimous in their call for action in the high skilled area — a top priority for the group, along with a new service campaign to connect the  best and brightest in the Valley with  kids in need.  But they were also frustrated with our inability as a country to tackle these issues as it has been several years since they began such conversations.

Aneesh did review the White House’s Blueprint for Building a 21st Century Immigration System, reinforcing what they already knew — that our economic competitiveness would be strengthened by a legal immigration system that reflects our values and meets our diverse needs…

The administration of this web log strongly encourages readers to click on the hyperlinks noted above to read further from this insightful piece.

This blogger is personally anxious to see a new common sense strategy employed in the administration of America’s immigration system. In a previous posting on this blog it was noted that the Obama administration in conjunction with Senator Amy Klobucher have taken steps to move forward on legislation designed to reform certain aspects of the American visa system. This initiative appears to be undertaken in an effort to generate further revenue for America in the form of tourist dollars. Furthermore, there are some who would argue that a reform of the immigration system would result in an increase in foreign direct investment in the USA as foreign nationals travel to America on visas such as the E-2 visa or the EB-5 visa in order to engage in trade or start a business.

Credit where credit is due: the administration appears serious about making positive changes to the US visa process and for this reason their efforts to that end should be admired. However, not everyone is enthusiastic about every aspect of the Obama administration’s policies and procedures as was recently discovered by this blogger while surfing the internet for information regarding the recent Patriot Act Extension. It would appear as though the issue of the Patriot Act’s extension is not the salient point for some as the President’s method of “signing” the recent legislation has been called into question. To quote directly from an article written by Benjy Sarlin posted on the website

President Obama’s use of a mechanical “autopen” to sign the new PATRIOT Act extension from abroad has at least one Republican lawmaker worried about a “dangerous precedent.” According to Rep. Tom Graves (R-GA), using a machine to sign legislation could one day bring about a dystopia in which robotic writing utensils are used to enact all manner of phony legislation.

“I thought it was a joke at first, but the President did, in fact, authorize an autopen to sign the Patriot Act extension into law,” Rep. Tom Graves (R-GA) said in a statement. “Consider the dangerous precedent this sets. Any number of circumstances could arise in the future where the public could question whether or not the president authorized the use of an autopen. For example, if the president is hospitalized and not fully alert, can a group of aggressive Cabinet members interpret a wink or a squeeze of the hand as approval of an autopen signing? I am very concerned about what this means for future presidential orders, whether they be signing bills into law, military orders, or executive orders.”

The administration of this web log recommends that readers click upon the relevant hyperlinks noted above to read this interesting posting in its entirety.

Representative Tom Graves is not the only one with concerns regarding this method of enacting legislation via “autopen” as those who subscribe to a so-called “formalist” or plain language interpretation of the United States Constitution (which this blogger has been known to agree with on certain issues) seem to have taken some offense to the notion of being able to sign legislation, especially legislation as important as the Patriot Act extension, into law through usage of an “autopen” especially in light of a plain language interpretation of the U.S. Constitution itself. To further elucidate this point it may be best to quote directly from a very astute comment on the website attributed to Bojax39 on May 31, 2011:

Justice Department’s Office of Legal Counsel: “…we conclude that the President need not personally perform the physical act of affixing his signature to a bill he approves and decides to sign in order for the bill to become law. Rather, the President may sign a bill within the meaning of Article I, Section 7 by directing a subordinate to affix the President’s signature to such a bill, for example by autopen.”Article 1, Section 7 of the U.S. Constitution: “Every Bill which shall have passed the House of Representatives and the Senate, shall, before it become a Law, be presented to the President of the United States; If he approves he shall sign it…” Now how the name of chicanery did the OLC “conclude” that? Just where does the Constitution say it’s okay for a machine to sign laws? What happens years from now when the government wants to prove to the people that it’s had the power to do some legal trickery for years? Drag out a former president’s autopen program to retroactively sign an empowering bit of “legislation”, wait for the ink to dry and tell us the law is really decades old?..

The administration of this blog again strongly recommends that readers click upon the hyperlinks noted above to read this comment fully. That stated, one is always encouraged to take some opinions posted on the internet with a proverbial “grain of salt,” but under the circumstances the points raised in the citation above are valid.

Clearly, there is room for debate as to the legitimacy of “autopen” usage in the adoption of legislation. In fact, there could be an argument that failure to fully adhere to Article 1 Section 7 noted above creates an implication that the extension of the Patriot Act fails to conform to notions of due process of law under the American Constitution. How this issue will play out in the months and days ahead remains to be seen, but it seems likely that further discussion of “autopen” usage may arise in the future.

For related information please see: Legal.

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13th February 2011

This blogger writes this blog post with an eye on the news circulating from the United States Congress. As a United States Citizen and as a Citizen of the State of Kansas this blogger would ask the United States Government: think what you are asking America to stomach this February 2011, and then understand our frustration at your seeming unwillingness to properly discuss the issues that impact Americans’ lives most

The question of the so-called Patriot Act. You ask us to support the extension of a bill that, to quote Mr. Bruce Alpert, Times-Picayune on the website

The Patriot Act bill would have renewed the authority for court-approved roving wiretaps that permit surveillance on multiple phones. Also addressed was Section 215, the so-called library records provision that gives the FBI court-approved access to “any tangible thing” relevant to a terrorism investigation.

The third deals with the “lone-wolf” provision of a 2004 anti-terror law that permits secret intelligence surveillance of non-U.S. people not known to be affiliated with a specific terrorist organization.

America, the land of the Free and the home of the Brave allows access to “any tangible thing” relevant to a “terrorism investigation” and calls this compliance with the 4th Amendment of the United States Constitution? Furthermore, so-called “roving” wiretaps, a term which could, and possibly should, be interpreted incredibly broadly; may allow government access to a huge range of private personal correspondence at little government effort. The extreme nature of the Patriot Act’s provisions beg the question: why is the issue of the American people being further subjected to the provisions of this law being seemingly fast tracked? Furthermore, why is this legislation being fast tracked in light of recent findings that the FBI may systematically have violated many Americans 4th amendment rights on a regular basis?

As a Citizen of the State of Kansas and as an American Citizen Resident Abroad I must take exception with the proposed extension of the so-called “lone wolf” surveillance noted above. Is this what we want to show our allies (and, dare I say, our enemies) at a time we need their goodwill the most? Are we going to show that we continue to endorse this sort of behavior on the part of our government as it pertains to “non-U.S.” people? Then if it is such a good idea, why not debate the matter? Why attempt to “fast track” this legislation through? Why is there never enough time to discuss these issues? In a recent posting on the website, the poster, Donny Shaw noted how seemingly obsessed the US House of Representatives seems to have recently become with some of the minutia of Congressional business while trying to quickly pass the Patriot Act extension brooking little discussion:

On Wednesday the Rules Committee got together for 10 minutes to decide that extending the three most controversial provisions of the PATRIOT Act would be allowed 1 hour of debate on the floor. The day before that they met for more than an hour and decided to give 9.5 hours of debate to …wait for it… a non-binding resolution directing committees to hold hearings on regulations that businesses don’t like.

Distinguished Gentlemen and Gentlewomen who make up our legislative branch of government, can you see from the above citation how the common American might view your handling of this Patriot Act extension matter as rather, well, perfunctory? I would hope that you do not take this the wrong way, but as a law abiding tax paying Citizen I want some oversight! I want some debate! I want someone to stand up and take notice of the giant wall of lies that has been built up around the Patriot Act and the way in which it is utilized. The 4th Amendment of the Constitution is not just some ordinary document that is tread upon with impunity. The Constitution is woven into the inherent fabric of the American being. The 4th Amendment of the Constitution contains the reference to the preexisting and inalienable right of the People of the United States to be free from unreasonable searches and seizures. Yes, a RIGHT! Citizens have them. States have them, human beings have them!

When one attempts to restrict or infringe upon something that is inherent to the being of a natural person or a body politic then that person or body politic cries out. This outcry occurs in much the same way as the human body cries out in pain as someone or something tries to harm it. In fact, to capture the zeitgeist of President Obama and Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., that type of cry from the body politic comes with the “fierce urgency of now!” The body politic is crying out with a fierce urgency and it is crying for an end to the Patriot Act.

112th United States Congress, this blogger asks you to ponder this: personal freedom is not a partisan issue. To quote Democratic President Franklin Delano Roosevelt, “the only thing we have to fear, is fear itself.” And to drive home the point further this blogger must quote Republican President Ronald Reagan when he stood at the Eastern outpost of the Free World and demanded at the Brandenburg Gate that the Soviet Union “Tear Down This Wall!” This blogger was a toddler when that event unfolded, but it may be the defining moment of a generation as the shackles of tyranny were loosed and the mighty Titans known as Liberty and Freedom were once again free to take their rightful place in Central and Eastern Europe. These notions have flourished in these locations, but the tree from whence this fruit has sprung is sickly as of late. That is why this blogger urges Congress to tear down this law! Show the world that we are America, land of the free!

This blogger was unhappy to watch a recent YouTube interview in which it was noted by Representative Ron Paul, a staunch opponent of the so-called “Patriot Act,” that the United States Congress was apparently wanting to pass the “Patriot Act” extension “as quietly as possible”. Why does this legislation need to be passed as quietly as possible? Is it because it might be MASSIVELY UNPOPULAR! No one really cares about polls and focus groups when it comes to matters of freedom from government surveillance. To put it simply: people do not like the Patriot Act. In fact, it would appear that notwithstanding little floor time devoted to discussion on the matter of the possible extension, there appears to be a very broad cross-section of the American body politic that does not favor extending the restrictions imposed by the Patriot Act. Representative Dennis Kucinich has recently made his feelings on the matter heard when he noted that it would “behoove the White House to align itself with the Constitution.” Representative Kucinich has also praised the Tea Party movement, or perhaps specifically the core of the Tea Party Movement, for adhering to the Constitution in voting to not extend the any provisions of the so-called Patriot Act. Perhaps the same bi-partisan accolades could be extended to the Republicans? Although this would seem unlikely as the so-called “Mainstream” Section of the Grand Old Party seems to hope for quick passage for the extension of the restriction of Americans’ right to be free from unreasonable search and seizure. That said, some “Mainstream” Republicans broke away and voted against the extension. Such activity should be encouraged and hopefully others from the GOP will see “the light” and follow suit.

The Patriot Act, in many ways, is a symbol of everything that is going wrong within the American System. The negative reverberating clang from the Patriot Act can be felt when the American people have their private parts groped prior to boarding virtually any conveyance for air travel. That same reverberation can be felt when body scanners bombard American travelers with questionably healthy levels of radiation. The reverberation can be felt when the free flow of ideas is chilled by legislation designed to stifle the inherent rights guaranteed in the 1st Amendment of the United States Constitution. The Constitution is not a “talking point” it is not a “sound bite” it is not a “meme”. It is the Supreme Law of The United States of America and its provisions are to be guarded zealously. The efforts and votes of the triumvirate of the Tea Party Caucus should not be overlooked in this posting. To quote directly from the Washington Post:

The Republicans who voted no Tuesday night included Roscoe G. Bartlett (Md.), Paul Broun (Ga.) and Walter B. Jones (N.C.), all of whom were original members of the House Tea Party Caucus when it was founded last summer.

The administration of this blog highly recommends interested parties click on the link above to read the full posting by the Washington Post and receive a more precise breakdown of the voting on this issue. From all of the evidence presented above, it is clear that the movement to let the Patriot Act expire has been given a boost by the incoming Congress. To the Federal legislators who voted for the Patriot Act extension, bear this in mind; the voters are watching this issue carefully. As a legislator, one could look at this as an opportunity. This blogger must ask any legislators reading this to imagine Bill Murray’s character, Dr. Peter Venkman, in the original Ghostbusters movie when reading the following line: if you, the US Congress vote against this measure, then YOU, the legislators, could save the rights of millions of registered voters!

To those Federal legislators debating which way to vote on this issue, ponder this: you do not need to “enhance your credibility” when you vote in favor of the United States Constitution. There need be no “spin”. You just tell the people something like this: “Yeah, the Patriot Act, it violates our rights, I voted against it, next question.” An easy one, isn’t that a Win-Win? In the era of politics 2.0 the electorate is acutely aware of the activities of our elected representatives and we expect our interests to be taken into consideration when voting on matters that pertain to our civil and Constitutional rights.

To the legislators who voted against the Patriot Act, thank you, your courage will not be forgotten. To those who continue to vote for this legislation please be advised: 2012 is coming and electorate 2.0 has a surprisingly longer memory than you might think.

– Benjamin Walter Hart

For related information please see: Patriot Act Extension.

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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 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”. 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. 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, United States Senators are paid 174,000 USD per annum. To quote another page from

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

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 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 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

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,

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

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 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

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 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‘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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