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bitmasher's picture
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The Patriot Act

I would like to discuss the Patriot Act (PA). My interest in this is peaked by two Wall Street Journal (WSJ) articles that appeared in the Tuesday Nov 19th paper. The first is on page 1 column 5 and the second is on page 2 column 1. I would link to them on-line but the WSJ requires a paid subscription, most libraries carry the WSJ.

As some may recall, the PA was passed by congress and signed by the president in a post 9/11 atmosphere that, understandably, badly wanted (wants) to find and remove terrorists still active within U.S. borders. Specifically the PA allowed:

-Broadly expanded law enforcements surveillance and investigative powers
-Allowed a new relationship between domestic criminal investigation agencies (FBI and local police) and foreign intelligence agencies (CIA and presumably the NSA).
-Made it much easier to obtain a search warrant when
searching/investigating a suspected terrorist
-In some cases the search warrant does not need to be served before searching.
-Broadened the definition of terrorist
-Allowed sweeping abilities to monitor electronic communication w/o in most cases a judges approval.

Even though the PA was passed by congress and signed by the president, its legality has been working it way through a "special" court system called the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court. On Monday this court upheld the PA and as the court put in its own words the PA "largely erases whatever boundary exists between foreign intelligence and domestic law enforcement".

This is huge. For many years there has been a barrier between foreign and domestic investigation. Specifically the CIA and NSA may not spy on U.S.
citizens or work with domestic agencies (FBI or local police) on criminal cases, except under very tight circumstances. Why? Simply because the NSA and CIA have virtually no legislative control (checks and balances) to guard that they do no breach citizens privacy. If the FBI were allowed to work directly with the CIA/NSA then possibly there be could a situation where somebody was being fully searched and analyzed without typical rules barring search an seizure.

The PA specifically targets domestic "terrorist suspects", so who cares right? I'm not a terrorist, your not a terrorist, so no big deal. This is where article number 1 in the WSJ comes into play.

The front page WSJ article discusses an FBI test run called "Project Lookout". Shortly after 9/11 the FBI released a document to other government agencies and to private businesses. The document contained a list of hundreds of people wanted for questioning in conjunction with suspected terrorist, names that presumably would fall under the PA as "terrorist suspects".

Project Lookout nailed a few terrorist but as the WSJ article details it also nailed innocent people. People with names like "Atta" or who at one time had been involved with middle eastern business were on the list. Prominently displayed in a public manner and the document has been circulated around the globe, condemning innocent people to prove themselves
not "not terrorist suspects" even when the FBI has said in later lists that they are "cleared".

People make mistakes, large government agencies make even more. The point here, as Project Lookout highlights, is that the PA gives sweeping search and seizure powers to a group of entities that may label a U.S. citizen as a "terrorist suspect" for seemingly trivial reasons.

FBI/CIA/NSA: Your a possible terrorist!

Accused: Who says?

FBI/CIA/NSA: I do and that is all that matters...

I want to see terrorist stopped as much as the next person. 9/11 was terrible. But I can't help but wonder if the PA is going to far.

In related news, here is a Washington post article on how part of the Pentagon's increased budget is being spent to create "A Global Awareness Database" that specifically works with private businesses (presumably credit card companies, airlines, travel...):

http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-dyn/articles/A40942-2002Nov11.html

I am concerned about the PA and would be interested to read what people have to say. I apologize for this being long winded, but I felt some background info was necessary.

[ This Message was edited by: bitmasher on 2002-11-20 22:39 ]

expatriate's picture
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The Patriot Act

The road to hell is paved with good intentions. It's rather alarming to see some of the civil rights erosions that have occurred. Aside from everything you mentioned, there have been US citizens arrested where the government announced it was holding them indefinitely with no plan to file charges (i.e. Jose Padilla). This is a VERY slippery slope, but one which people are happy to hop on because they're afraid of terrorists and are OK with it because they think it doesn't affect them.

My biggest concern is what happens down the road when the term "threat to national security" gets broader. The "enemy of the state" justification has been used throughout history to do all kinds of foul things. It's a dangerous thing to give up freedoms because you trust the guy in charge, because he's not going to be in charge forever and the laws will still be on the books when the new guy takes over.

The database idea is truly frightening. I've read where it will record every purchase (including firearms), log every web site you visit, traffic tickets, legal transactions, and basically everything else that might have your name attached to it. The amount of data is going to be so overwhelming that I don't forsee Big Brother knocking on your door out of the blue. But what happens when you're suspected of a crime and they dig through the database looking for things to use against you? What do you think the chances are that some of that information will leak out if you're saying things the government doesn't like? What if politicians had access to it during political campaigns?

Scary stuff, indeed. Makes you want to cut up the credit cards and start paying cash for everything.

bitmasher's picture
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The Patriot Act

Quote:


The "enemy of the state" justification has been used throughout history to do all kinds of foul things.

Precisely. My 8th grade history teacher used to lecture about how if we failed to learn the lessons of history we will repeat history. Frankly, I wish he was a senator now.

Another thing that bothers me is that all of this is occuring when "identity theft" is increasing. Modern identity theives are crafty and work in the background for some time. So not only is the state being given unheard of power to point fingers without question, the spector of identity theft raises the real possibility that they point a finger at a victim, with out a clue of what somebody was doing with their identity in another part of the country. I don't think that it is a great leap of logic that if real terrorist can infiltrate the nation that these terrorist can also operate under ripped identities.

So our hold on our identity is slipping at a time when it is most important.

expatriate's picture
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The Patriot Act

Wow. That's an excellent point. It's bad enough worrying about the government looking over your shoulder 24/7, but it's frightening to think that you may discover your identity has been stolen when they knock down your front door. Now you have to prove that it was stolen, prove which transactions were yours and provide alibis for every transaction over the period in question. If the identity thief is in your area, this could be real tough to do. And by the way, you may find your habeas corpus rights are gone, you might not have access to an attorney, and the court dealing with your case operates outside the legal system.

This also makes identity theft more desirable and valuable than ever.

There's another aspect of this that's a bit chilling to think about. People are forgetting the Oklahoma City bombing and the anti-Waco, anti-Ruby Ridge extremists that are paranoid of government abuses. if we're not careful, in our zeal to stop international terrorism we might end up feeding domestic terrorism.

[ This Message was edited by: expatriate on 2002-11-21 22:18 ]

bitmasher's picture
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The Patriot Act

Quote:


People are forgetting the Oklahoma City bombing and the anti-Waco, anti-Ruby Ridge extremists that are paranoid of government abuses.

Yeah, there is a segment of the population that can and will take drastic steps if they feel they are getting ram-rodded. Right or wrong, history has shown that to be true.

However both Waco and Ruby Ridge were high profile, the lose of privacy won't come in one overt action that galvanizes the public, rather just in small steps that aggregate over time, until one morning you wake up and realize (if even) that things are different. At least this seems to be what Orwell thought. It is also interesting to note that in "1984" the fictional government used war as a justification for the slow loss of privacy over time.

Speaking of Waco, if we were to pull that situation ahead in time and place it under the PA, would the Branch Davidians been labeled as domestic terrorist, "enemies of the state"? The most vexing part of the PA, is there does not seem to a clear definition of "terrorist", in fact it appears to be as broad as possible, in an effort to give the three-letter agencies (FBI/CIA/NSA) as much room to manuever as possible.

I'm also a bit concerned of what the Homeland Security Department (HSD) has to do with the PA. My understanding is that the HSD is an effort to federalize more local and county police actions, in the hopes that if a major national terrorist action occurred, the HSD could handle the response. However, does the HSD (yet another three-letter agency) have a policing/investigative arm as well? If it does have a policing arm, how does that fit in with the PA?

bitmasher's picture
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The Patriot Act

I guess I'm not all together suprised by this....

GOP wants to keep anti-terror powers

expatriate's picture
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The Patriot Act

Hitler, Stalin, Mao, Pol Pot, and Hussein all crafted elaborate internal security systems to track their citizenry and identify possible threats to the state. These leaders justified their actions by saying they were protecting society from terrorists and subversive elements.

Had such despots had the technology, they'd no doubt argue that computer databases, video surveillance with face-recognition software, and electronic tracking systems would be much cheaper than a web of secret police and paid informers. Such a system would also be faster, less prone to corruption, and more efficient in terms of data gathering capacity.

Our constitution was built on the premise of what happens if a government turns against its citizenry. Throughout the world's history, the cornerstones of tyranny were laid by fearful populations who incrementally traded the blessings of freedom for the promise of security. If anyone thinks it only happpens in other countries, they ought to take a trip to Manzanar.

bitmasher's picture
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The Patriot Act

Good point on the Manzanar, Ex. That is a sore spot for a country that affords due process, maranda rights, and laws against search/seizure. The U.S. is not immune to the break down of our most coveted beliefs.

I thought the Patriot Act was palatable only because of the sunsetting in 2005, in fact the sunsetting was the only reason it passed with Democrat approval. This is very distrubing for reasons I have already listed above.

This issue highlights why I'm not affiliated with any one party or subscribe to labeling issues as liberal or conservative (although I'm not saying that being a registered Dem/Rep is necessarily bad). At the end of the day, people need to use their heads and vote on an issue based on their review of the facts/opinions/precidence. Voting along party lines for the sake of voting with the party without thought to underlying issues is dangerous. I hope that the Republican's pushing this, stop to think about the significance of what they are pushing.

expatriate's picture
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The Patriot Act

The assault rifle ban has a sunset clause in it, too. What do you think the chances are that it'll actually set?

The thing about sunset clauses is that they buy you votes by convincing opponents that it's only a temporary thing. Yet things will have changed by the time the sunset approaches. At that point, you can extend the sunset clause or even revoke it without changing the status quo. Yet those in favor of letting it set will have to counter rhetoric from opponents who claim doing so would open up all sorts of opportunities for evildoers. In other words, the debate will be whether to keep the status quo or remove restrictions on criminals. In that climate, I don't think the sun will ever go down.

[ This Message was edited by: expatriate on 2003-04-12 02:53 ]

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