A sense of security for a price
Several web logs have excellent entries about the Bush administration's efforts to feed the Patriot Act more spinach. Ren Bucholz of LawMeme says: "Though it was cold comfort, the public was able to take a little solace in the fact that many of USAPA's provisions were scheduled to expire, or "sunset," in 2005." However, we may be deprived of that minimal reassurance. Utah Sen. Orrin Hatch has "threatened to remove the sunset provisions, making many of the most troubling provisions of USAPA into permanent fixtures of America's surveillance landscape."
LawMeme also has links to the Electronic Frontier Foundation's analysis of the impact of the Patriot Act.
The proposed legislation would:
Make permanent Patriot's expanded law enforcement authority to wiretap, electronically eavesdrop, monitor personal Internet use, require Internet Service Providers to disclose subscriber information and allow greater access to financial records.
Hatch's plan has met with criticism from both the Left and the Right.
An opposites-attract alliance ranging from the American Civil Liberties Union to the Eagle Forum disagrees. Dozens of groups are stepping up campaigns to repeal the Patriot Act entirely or let it expire as planned, while warning of additional forthcoming measures.
Tech writer Dan Gillmor devotes a Sunday column to the topic. Gillmor observes civil liberties are often curtailed during times of heightened fear only to return once the perceived crisis is over. He says: "The fabled pendulum of liberty may not swing back this time. Why?" He offers two reasons:
•"For one thing, the damage that one evil or deranged person or group can cause has grown.
•Moreover, the architecture of tomorrow is being embedded with the tools of a surveillance society: ubiquitous cameras; the creation and linking of all manner of databases; insecure networks; and policies that invite abuse."
Gillmor is also concerned about the huge National Crime Information Center (NCIC) database, which contains information not vetted for accuracy and is used by local, state and federal law enforcement.
Roger Ailes draws our attention to the lone wolf terrorist"bill, to which Hatch intended to append the anti-sunset provisions. The bill dispenses with the usual conspiracy requirements of terrorist cases. He observes:
It certainly sounds like the FBI is lobbying Congress to expand the "Patriot Act" to alleged crimes where no link to terrorist organization groups exist. If no proof of a tie to a terrorist group or foreign country is required, almost any premeditated crime could be considered a "terrorist act."
Indeed, lone wolf looks like a pretext to draw just about any crime under the umbrella of terrorism if law enforcement is interested in doing so.
Whether this legislation is stopped could determine the tenor of lives of all Americans for years to come. Bloggers, as high intensity Internet users, should be particularly concerned about the impact of the Patriot Act on our privacy.