Thursday, September 29, 2005

Inside The Patriot Act

The Patriot Act is one of those documents that seems to attract a lot more attention than readers. I too have been one of those people who rely on the civil rights lawyers to actually read the document, then I find their interpretations in the usual pick-up windows to which civil rights advocates subscribe. But it seems to me that a genuine concern about the threats to our freedom should really be fortified with a more direct understanding of the threat itself.

So I decided to read the document. Well, at least parts of it and sure enough I began to understand something that I didn't get from the interpretations. The sections of the Patriot Act that I read seem to be little more than a hit-list for knocking off pre-existing rules. This may explain how such a long document could have been produced in such short order; the list probably reflects decades of limits on what law enforcement agencies would like to have done if not for the interference of our constitutional rights. Indeed, all the rules on the hit-list are rules that protect those rights.

Now, I understand that some folks believe that securing our safety is worth the price of compromising "some" of our civil rights, but that seems like a real dangerous thing to commit to without really knowing what "some" means. How many of those who support the Patriot Act even know which specific rules are being stricken?

Let's look at section 505: “Miscellaneous National Security Authorities” which has three sub-sections, each one attacking a separate law. So just to understand Section 505, you have to read and understand three additional laws.

  • sub-section "a" affects the Telephone Toll and Transactional Records.--Section 2709(b) of title 18, United States Code.
  • sub-section "b" (Financial Records) affects Section 1114(a)(5)(A) of the Right to Financial Privacy Act of 1978 (12 U.S.C. 3414(a)(5)(A))
  • sub-section "c" (Consumer Reports) affects Section 624 of the Fair Credit Reporting Act (15 U.S.C. 1681u)

  • Of course nothing is stopping you from searching the internet for the U.S.C. I think Legal Information Institute is a good place to go. As a guide for what to look for, keep in mind that U.S. District Judge Victor Marrero stated that section 505 violated the 1st and 4th Amendments. In general, section 505 allows the government to search through your records without judicial supervision. Judicial supervision is important because the government agencies that are doing the searching are usually under the executive branch, the judicial check upholds the check and balance designed in the Constitution to make our government tyranny resistant and this is where my perspective differs from those who say... "if you aren't doing anything wrong, then you have nothing to worry about." It's not me that I'm worried about and it's not necessarily the current government that is still at least to some extent, bridled to decency by the Constitution either. What I'm worried about is the future government that finds enough space between power and decency to redefine what "wrong" is.

    What guarantee do we have that ten, twenty or thirty years from now the government won't be doing something, or forcing us to do something that we can't tolerate? Then what? What recourse would we have if we have already submitted ourselves to total control? How would we organize any sort of counter-action if we have already given our government the ability to prevent any such counter-actions from occurring?

    The Patriot Act is being sold on the premise of being an anti-terrorist tool to combat the organization of terrorist resources and activities, but think about it... How do you think the government would classify your resources and activities if you found it necessary to fight them? It's impossible to lock down the nation and secure it from terrorism without giving up your own right to insure your own liberty and that's just what we are doing when we say the Patriot Act is needed.

    I suppose it's hard for most of us to understand because we really don't know what it's like to be oppressed. For most of us in the middle class, our government and our lives have enjoyed a symbiotic relationship. But the authors of the Constitution knew what oppression was. They actually had to fight for their freedom. If you read the Federalist Papers you will notice that the they were very worried about the potential for tyranny, not just from foreign sources but from within.

    It's this same exact concern that created the Constitution that creates opposition to the Patriot Act and it's a very serious concern. The 2nd Amendment which provides us with the right to bear arms wasn't added for us to have fun shooting beer cans in our back yards, it was added to preserve our ability to fight our own government forces if we need to. That may sound a little wacko to us in our comfortable co-existence with a constitutional government, but again, the founder of this nation understood what oppression was like. A big part of our civil rights is about our ability to withstand future changes, potential problems that we may not have now, but we may have later. It seems silly to buy into the Patriot Act without at least considering how it will impact these rights and it seems downright cowardly to compromise our rights just to help authorities catch a few terrorists.

    As Ben Franklin said... "Those who are willing to give up liberty for the sake of security, deserve neither." - I happen to agree with him.

    Patriot Act Text


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