Mar. 31, 2011 (AntiWar.com) -- Incessant warmaking overseas will someday end when the United States runs out of money or soldiers or both.
But less well understood is the collateral damage here at home where the consequences of the global war on terror will linger on in the form of a shattered constitution. The Patriot Act is generally promoted as the principal legislative tool being used to fight international terrorism. It is, in reality, a devastating and poorly conceived bit of legislation originally approved just after 9/11. It will soon be up for an extension in the US Senate. President Barack Obama, who criticized it while he was a candidate, but apparently has had a change of heart since that time, favors its renewal. Most members of Congress, few of whom have ever read the entire act, want it renewed. The mainstream media likes it because who can resist patriotism?
That is the bad news. But there is also some good news. Libertarians, traditional conservatives, progressives, and even some tea partiers are for the first time uniting to stop the extension. Senator Rand Paul led the charge in the Senate back in February, resulting in a temporary 90-day continuation of key provisions of the act that will expire in May. Before that happens, the Patriot Act will again be up for Senate approval, but this time there will be an open debate in front of the full Senate and under the scrutiny of the media. It will be the first time that has happened since 2001. There will also be a roll call vote with each Senator having to come down for or against. It is an opportunity not to be missed to roll back the tide of government intrusion in the life of every citizen.
Americans should know what the Patriot Act has done to each and every one of us. Broadly speaking, the Patriot Act was designed to make it easier for law enforcement to investigate U.S. citizens and permanent residents by easing legal restraints on records and activities that were hitherto considered private or required a judge’s order to access. The Act has enjoyed bipartisan support since 2001.
Title 2 of the Patriot Act, entitled “Enhanced Surveillance Procedures,” contains many of its most controversial aspects of the new law. Previously, obtaining information on foreigners residing in the United States was carefully regulated by the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act (FISA) court and the information generally had to be sought as part of an actual criminal investigation. Under the new law, it became possible to investigate any foreign suspect as part of a law enforcement effort to obtain foreign intelligence information even if there was no evidence that a crime had been committed. The difference is critical as the former procedure required actual evidence of a crime while the new procedure permitted investigation of just about anyone who could plausibly be linked to a foreign suspect to obtain information, allowing law enforcement to conduct wide ranging fishing expeditions. The new rules also lifted the requirement that law enforcement demonstrate that the target of a FISA approved investigation was a foreign national and a possible agent of a foreign government. Anyone linked to the inquiry, even a U.S. citizen, could become a person of interest.