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The Patriot Act in 2005

The Patriot Act
in 2005



by Kerby
Anderson



 





            The
House of Representatives apparently believes the time has come to revise the
PATRIOT Act. In June, the House voted 238 to 187 to weaken one of the provisions
in the USA PATRIOT (Uniting and Strengthening America by Providing Appropriate
Tools Required to Intercept and Obstruct Terrorism) Act.





            A
month after the attack on America on September 11, 2001, Congress overwhelmingly
passed the USA PATRIOT Act.  Within
months, many groups were calling for changes because its sweeping powers would
weaken Fourth Amendment protections and equal protection under the law. 
Nearly four years later, over 200 communities and a number of states have
passed resolutions expressing concerns about the PATRIOT Act and calling for
revisions.





            During
the 2004 campaign, Howard Dean called the act "morally wrong" and
"shameful." Al Gore called for the repeal of the PATRIOT Act. That will not
happen, but it is likely that the PATRIOT Act will be revised.





            There
are provisions that need adjustment.  In
the aftermath of September 11, Congress moved quickly. 
In fact, the House and Senate passed the USA PATRIOT Act so quickly that
many members of Congress had not even read the bill. 
Yet even a quick reading would not be enough to fully appreciate the
impact of the legislation. We now have the advantage of nearly four years of
history to evaluate its impact. While the PATRIOT Act has been essential in
helping prosecutors take legal action against terrorist operatives and their
supporters, there are some provisions that need revising.





            One
provision in the Act is called "sneak and peek." 
This permits law enforcement to conduct searches without informing the
subject in advance.  This provision weakens our constitutional protections. 
Law enforcement agencies can search a person's home without informing
that homeowner for up to 90 days.





            Former
congressman Bob Barr appeared on "Point of View" on June 13 to express his
concerns and reservations about the PATRIOT Act. He believes that the PATRIOT
Act seriously weakens our Fourth Amendment protections against unreasonable
searches and seizures.





            Congressman
Barr also expressed his concern about the "possible future misapplication of
the PATRIOT Act against pro-life, land rights or Second Amendment activists."
He also felt that the PATRIOT Act removed certain limitations which would grant
the government "to reach all tangible things (including books, records,
papers, documents and other items)."





            Another
key provision in the PATRIOT Act deals with the area of "domestic
terrorism."  Some conservatives
believe that political activists and aggressive advocacy groups could be targets
of the federal government.





            Congressman
Ron Paul (R-TX) says, "The bill as written defines terrorism as acts intended
to influence the policy of a government by intimidation or coercion. Under this
broad definition, a scuffle at an otherwise peaceful pro-life demonstration
might subject attendees to a federal investigation. We have seen abuses of law
enforcement authority in the past to harass individuals or organizations with
unpopular political views."





            Any
student of history recognizes the valid concern raised by Congressman Paul.
President John Adams used the Alien and Sedition Act to imprison his political
enemies and curb newspaper editors critical of him. President Abraham Lincoln
suspended the writ of habeus corpus which led to the imprisonment of physicians,
lawyers, journalists, soldiers, farmers, and draft resisters. President Woodrow
Wilson permitted his attorney general (Mitchell Palmer) to stop political
dissent during the Palmer Raids. President Franklin Delano Roosevelt interned
thousands of Japanese-American citizens during World War II.





            One
possible remedy to the PATRIOT Act has been put forward by various members of
Congress. The bill is called the Security and Freedom Enhance Act (SAFE Act) and
would ensure greater accountability and oversight of governmental powers granted
under the PATRIOT Act.





            What
is missing from the PATRIOT Act (and provided by the SAFE Act) is stronger
standards for judicial review and congressional oversight. 
For example, the PATRIOT Act contains a catch-all provision that permits
the use of "sneak and peek" in nearly all criminal investigations. 
The SAFE Act permits its use only in those circumstances in which law
enforcement believes and a federal judge concurs that without the delayed
notification the life or physical safety of an individual will be endangered,
someone will flee prosecution, or it could result in the destruction or
tampering of evidence.





            The
SAFE Act would also address the deadline for notifying a subject of a search. 
Under the PATRIOT Act, law enforcement agencies can notify a subject
after a "reasonable period" (which can be up to and perhaps even exceed 90
days).  The SAFE Act has a strict
deadline of seven days with the ability to extend the deadline when a federal
judge concurs.





            The
Attorney General would be required to report to Congress on a semi-annual basis
about the requests that have been made for delayed notification of searches and
extensions.  The SAFE Act would also sunset the "sneak and peek"
power.





            The
SAFE Act would implement a higher standard of judicial review concerning records
(business, medical, library records).  Under
the current law, whole databases could be seized by obtaining secret court
orders.  Liberals and conservatives
alike are concerned that contributor lists for right-to-life organizations,
environmental organizations, or even gun shops could be obtained by law
enforcement agencies.





            When
it was first introduced nearly four years ago, the PATRIOT Act was touted as an
emergency wartime measure.  Yet some
of the most controversial provisions would continue even after America wins the
war on terrorism.  Congress must now
re-authorize many of these provisions. This is a perfect time to revise some of
the controversial provisions of the USA PATRIOT Act.