PATRIOT ACT DEBATE ON THE HORIZON
By Bob Confer
On December 14 the Speaker of the House, Nancy Pelosi, struck down a Senate plan to extend until 2013 provisions of the Patriot Act that were set to expire last Thursday. The extension clause would have been an add-on to the $636 billion defense spending bill agreed upon by the House and Senate. Understanding that a good many Americans do not relish having their rights to privacy trampled upon, she did not want the extensions forced through without satisfactory debate. So, Congress instead approved a 60-day extension, signaling a lengthy debate ahead regarding controversial records procurement methods and roving wiretaps.
The records rule is one of the most onerous of the Patriot Act, granting officials court orders that can force private enterprises (such a businesses, hospitals, and libraries) to turn over “any tangible thing” (such as business records and medical histories) that could be considered relevant to a terrorism investigation. Through this rule, once private and personal records of all citizens – both good and bad – are fair game to government inspection.
The equally-disturbing roving (or warrantless) wiretaps provision allows the government to eavesdrop on or intercept communications without the court orders traditionally necessary for identifying the target and the specific means and lines of communication. Under its scope, the government can freely use any method and tactic to observe and listen in on anyone considered a terror suspect (which, as we learned in 2009, could be almost anyone).
In theory, both rules face a rocky road ahead now that the Democrats – long the critics of the Bush Administration and its abuses of the Patriot Act – are in power. But, theory and reality are two entirely different things.
The reality of the moment, which is almost serendipitous to the cause of Patriot Act supporters, is that many elected officials and citizens who once decried the Act may find themselves supporting the renewal of the provisions with the attempted Christmas Day airline bombing so fresh in their minds. For many people, security trumps liberty especially with the horror of death in the sky so close to being realized. They will sell-out in order to guarantee their safety and the safety of their families (although there is nothing truly guaranteed in that regard).
There is also the reality of political force to contend with. Pelosi’s power is nothing in comparison to the power of President Obama, the media darling and rock star president who can alter a goodly portion of public sentiment at will. As a senator and presidential candidate Obama was strongly opposed to the Patriot Act. In 2005, when these same provisions came up for renewal, he was dead set against them, citing the government’s newfound power as being a threat to our rights and freedoms. But, since taking office, he has made a complete 180, throwing his support behind the reauthorization of the wire taps and records searches, something he has pursued in earnest since September, both publicly and behind closed doors. December’s scare will only make him more brazen.
Because of Obama’s powerful and popular influence, Speaker Pelosi and her alleged majority may end up being a minority, losing out in the end, showing how truly similar and nearly indistinguishable our country’s two main parties really are: Democrats are guilty of the behaviors of Republicans and vice versa.
In preparation for a prolonged standoff over the Patriot Act, if you value personal liberty you must make it a point to contact your Congressperson and Senators and ask that the nefarious rules face the sunset they deserve and do not get renewed. If they are allowed to continue it won’t be a victory against terrorism. It will be a victory for terrorism. The terrorists despise the American Way and our freedoms and want to see our personal rights squashed. The Patriot Act and its intrusiveness virtually assure that the terrorists’ goals are achieved. We can’t let that happen.