USA PATRIOT Act 2005: Big Brother is Watching

The senate is poised to pass a new deal on the Patriot Act that will continue to limit privacy and give the government broad and strangely unregulated powers.

Conference committee negotiators have presented a new deal on the USA PATRIOT Act reauthorization bill for final action, but a group of at least 6 Senators — 3 Republicans and 3 Democrats — are threatening to block action in the Senate if it comes to the floor. The compromise bill still includes sweeping government surveillance powers that would now be set into permanent law except two provisions that sunset in 2009.

The USA PATRIOT Act became law only a month after September 11, 2001 — with little review and amid an atmosphere of fear. The law gave the government sweeping surveillance powers without including accountability and oversight. Certain provisions are set to expire this year and Congress has begun the process of reauthorizing and possibly expanding the PATRIOT Act.

Emergency Petition to Filibuster
the PATRIOT Act,

People For the American Way*Civil liberties groups have challenged a number of PATRIOT Act provisions as unconstitutional. These groups argue that Congress should never have given the government the ability to:

* Search your home without informing you
* Secretly access your records — educational, medical, library, sales, financial, etc. — without probable cause
* Monitor your emails and what Internet sites you visit
* Wiretap you without your name being on the warrant
* Take away your property without a hearing
* Share your information with the CIA so they can spy on you
* Indefinitely incarcerate non-citizens

In 2003, the Justice Department called for expansions to the PATRIOT Act’s powers, dubbed PATRIOT Act II. Some legislators would like to see expanded powers from PATRIOT Act II included in the reauthorization bill. Civil liberties groups are calling for Congress to curtail powers the government already has by reversing some of the original PATRIOT Act provisions.

By a vote of 11-4, the Senate Intelligence Committee passed S. 1266, which reauthorized all sunsetting provisions, made nine expiring provisions permanent, and included some expanded powers from PATRIOT Act II. The expanded powers included: allowing the FBI to issue “administrative subpoenas” that serve as search warrants but don’t need a judge or a grand jury’s approval; expanding a provision in the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act (FISA) that allows for greater access to business records; and authorizing the FBI to inspect the outside of U.S. Postal Service letters and packages.

After a short day of debate, the House voted to pass the USA PATRIOT Act reauthorization bill on July 21 by a vote of 257-171. The House bill, H.R. 3199, makes permanent 14 of the 16 sunsetting provisions. The bill sets the roving wiretaps and searches of business records provisions to sunset in 2015. During House floor debate, Democrats and civil liberties advocates complained about the closed rule that did not allow many amendments and a thorough debate on the House bill’s controversial measures. It didn’t even include an amendment reversing government access to library records, which passed the House last month as an amendment to an appropriations bill.

On the same day, the Senate Judiciary Committee voted unanimously 18-0 to pass the Senate bill S. 1266. The committee worked out a compromise bill that included the same 2 sunsets as the House bill on roving wiretaps and business records, except with a 2009 end date. The bill also included language requiring more FBI oversight of access to library records. Senators Arlen Specter (R-PA) and Dianne Feinstein (D-CA) introduced a bill, S. 1389, that would make some improvements to the PATRIOT Act, which civil liberties advocates are trying to include in the reauthorization bill.

On July 29, with no floor debate, the Senate passed S. 1266 by unanimous consent. The bill now moves to a House-Senate conference committee. House Democrats are pushing for a motion to instruct conferees to include important Senate provisions.

While it is important that the government have the ability to conduct investigations into terrorism and other criminal activities, there needs to be a balance that also protects citizens’ civil liberties and offers accountability and oversight. Take action to urge your legislator to support corrections to the USA PATRIOT Act.

Author: Moving Ideas

News Service: Moving Ideas

URL: http://www.movingideas.org/content/en/on_the_hill/patriot_act2005.htm