Saturday, February 19, 2011

Tell your representative, "Let the Patriot Act expire"

The new Republican majority in the house outsmarted themselves by pushing the extension of three provisions of the Patriot Act as an emergency vote. That made a 2/3 majority vote necessary to pass the extension. The extension failed to pass today by just 7 votes.

An extension is still possible if a regular vote can be scheduled before February 28th. Hopefully that won't happen. The three expiring provisions are wonderful for a police state, but slow death to a society founded on the ideal that government exists for the governed, not the other way around. They are:

  • the provision allowing court approved roving wiretaps - those are taps that do not have to specify one location or device but can be moved as desired. This means that devices only peripherally related to the suspect can be tapped.
  • the provision that allows court approved access to "any tangible thing" as long as it's related to a terror investigation. The concern here is that there is no check on this provision. It specifically prohibits using things or activities protected by the First Amendment, but as we learned last week, the FBI is not above violating civil liberties.
  • Third is the provision that allows the surveillance of foreign nationals because they are foreign nationals. No connection to known or suspected terrorists or criminals necessary. The ultimate expression of "us vs them" mentality. Why are all the people protesting SB1070 screaming about this one?

The terrorist threat is real. It's not going away. But giving up our civil liberties does less to protect us than it does to provide the government access to our lives that it should not have. The biggest domestic contributor to the success of of the 9/11 attacks was lack of communication between intelligence agencies and even lack of communication within agencies. The Department of Homeland Security was created in part to correct that problem, but two years ago we learned that there has been little or no improvement. Giving government agencies access to more information when they don't even communicate the information they have effectively does nothing to improve security and much to invite abuse. Write your representative and tell him to let these provisions expire.