"The most common characteristic of all police states is intimidation by surveillance. Citizens know they are being watched and overheard. Their mail is being examined. Their homes can be invaded." ~ Vance Packard
Renewing the Police State
So the USA Patriot Act was reauthorized by the junior tyrants in Congress again. But fearing that it was unconstitutional, the House put in a ten-year sunset clause, which begs one to point out, if the Act's powers were constitutional, there would be no need for a sunset clause. But since it is unconstitutional, why not abolish it? Because these great leaders of the people, the people's representatives, are cowards.
So what powers did the regime, on its own authority, grant to itself? How does the 'Uniting and Strengthening America by Providing Appropriate Tools Required to Intercept and Obstruct Terrorism' Act endanger the liberty of Americans? Let's take a look:
Section 206 permits 'roving wire-taps' (whether these are actually conducted by Karl Rove is still unclear). This allows government agents to tap any telephone or computer a suspect might use, i.e., any public phone in your neighborhood area. This allows the government to spy on and record the conversations of anyone who uses a public phone, not just those who are the subject of a current investigation. Beware of what you say when you use a public phone or even the phone in a business. You could be prosecuted for idle conversation (perhaps derogatory remarks about a certain politician, or 'hate speech'). You could be confronted with your own words on tape.
Section 213 changes the standards that used to govern obtaining search warrants. It allows so-called 'sneak and peek' searches in any investigation. And instead of serving the suspect with the warrant in person, the federal agent can snoop first and let you know he let himself in and rifled through your stuff, and probably raided your fridge, sometime later. Like perhaps, years later. Section 214 allows the government to track your incoming and outgoing phone calls without a warrant and even without probable cause, all by simply uttering the magic phrase 'It's relevant to a terrorist investigation.' Unchecked police spying? Why . . . that only happens in grubby despotisms like Mexico or Russia. Surely not in America?
Section 215 allows the FBI to obtain a subpoena from its pet judiciary, the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Courts, for your personal records from your bank, bookstore, library, church, video store, and other businesses, and all without proving probable cause. Not only that, the subpoena cannot be challenged in court and it is illegal for you to even be told about it!
Section 216 allows, with only the approval of a judge, federal agents to collect data on the online activities of suspects in any criminal investigation. Although it supposedly limits the data collection to website addresses, not 'content,' many addresses include clues to the content of that webpage and obviously allow the agents to call up those pages for later viewing.
Section 218 steps all over the Fourth Amendment to the U.S. Bill of Rights. It allows secret searches of homes and businesses, based on the authorization of secret courts when the federal agents allege they possess classified information obtained from foreign sources. And this secretly obtained 'evidence' can be used against a suspect in U.S. courts, including the allegations of these secretive foreign sources. So much for due process. What's all this about secret this and secret that? This was America, wasn't it? Section 220 curtails judicial oversight of roving wire-taps, giving the state an unchecked, rather than a cursory rubberstamp power, to eavesdrop on unsuspecting and innocent Americans for possible future extortions . . . er, I mean, prosecutions.
Section 505 is similar to Section 215 except no judge is involved with this one. Anyone from at the time John 'Letting the Eagle Soar' Ashcroft, to Abu Ghraib Gonzales, down to the lowliest FBI field agent can demand the same kinds of records by issuing the magical tool: the 'national security letter.' To demonstrate that the information demanded is relevant to an ongoing terrorist investigation, the agent involved has to clear it by only . . . himself. What's that? Checks and balances? Never heard of it.
Section 802 creates the new crime of 'domestic terrorism,' which it defines as acts 'dangerous to human life' that 'appear to be intended' to influence government policy by 'intimidation or coercion.' But aren't the people really the government in a democracy? Aren't the American people really the government in this great democracy? If this be true, then wouldn't that mean that the regime of George W. Bush terrorized the American people with images of mushroom clouds and poison gas, in order to influence their willingness to support his invasions, and the further intimidation and coercion of the American people under the specter of random searches? That would mean that George W. Bush is a domestic terrorist, wouldn't it?
Section 805(a)(2)(B) was declared unconstitutional as 'impermissibly vague' and that it endangered the First Amendment protections for free speech. This section banned someone from giving 'expert advice or assistance' to organizations that the government designates as 'foreign terrorist organizations.'
Section 806 allows your representatives and their agents, in the form of the (In)Justice Department, without a hearing, to steal the property of those it alleges are domestic terrorists and their supporters. What's that? Due process? See Section 218. After more than nine hours of tedious and often ridiculous 'debate' that largely consisted of fear mongering and other general insults to the intelligence of the average person, the House renewed the Patriot Act 257 votes for it and 171 against it. The 257 votes included 214 brown shirted Republicans and 43 quisling Democrats. House Republicans cast the law in apocalyptic terms and most Democrats echoed their support, but added tepid concerns about civil liberties. Way to be courageous. Some opposition. What was that old 'mee-tooism' appeal of FDR-era Republicans? 'The same, but better.' I guess today's Democrats offer Americans 'the same, but less.'
* Special thanks to Mother Jones magazine, which originally published material that was used in this piece.