How the Patriot Act Is Being Used to Fight the Drug War and Eavesdrop on Journalists
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John Whitehead, author of " Renewing the Patriot Act While America Sleeps", described our post Patriot Act reality in appropriately stark terms, writing, “"Suddenly, for the first time in American history, federal agents and police officers were authorized to conduct black bag “sneak-and-peak” searches of homes and offices and confiscate your personal property without first notifying you of their intent or their presence. The law also granted the FBI the right to come to your place of employment, demand your personal records and question your supervisors and fellow employees, all without notifying you; allowed the government access to your medical records, school records and practically every personal record about you; and allowed the government to secretly demand to see records of books or magazines you’ve checked out in any public library and Internet sites you’ve visited.”
And now - according to the New York Times - new guidelines from the Justice Department will allow FBI agents to investigate people and organizations "proactively" without firm evidence for suspecting criminal activity. The new rules will free up agents to infiltrate organizations, search household trash, use surveillance teams, search databases, and conduct lie detector tests, even without suspicion of any wrongdoing.
In other words, the Constitutional “precedent” set by the Patriot Act appears to be serving to accelerate the rapid disintegration of civil liberties in this country.
Of equal concern is what we still don’t know about how the government might be using the Act, highlighted by recent statements made by US Senators regarding what they termed “secret Patriot Act provisions”. Senator Ron Wyden (D-OR), an outspoken critic of the recent reauthorization, stated, "When the American people find out how their government has secretly interpreted the Patriot Act they will be stunned and they will be angry." As a member of the Senate Intelligence Committee Wyden is in a position to know, as he receives classified briefings from the executive branch.
In recent years, three other current and former members of the US Senate - Mark Udall (D-CO), Dick Durbin (D-IL), and Russ Feingold (D-WI) - have provided similar warnings. We can't be sure what these senators are referring to, but the evidence suggests, and some assert, that the current administration is using Section 215 of the Patriot Act - a provision that gives the government access to "business records" - as the legal basis for the large-scale collection of cell phone location records.
The fact that in 2009 Sprint disclosed that law enforcement made 8 million requests in 2008 alone for its customer’s cell phone GPS data for purposes of locational tracking should only add to these legitimate privacy concerns.
Security Versus Privacy: A False Dichotomy
The Patriot Act was sold as an indispensable weapon in the government’s arsenal to fight and “win” the “War on Terror”. We were assured that the sole purpose of these unprecedented powers granted government were to locate and catch terrorists - not raid the homes of pot dealers and wiretap peace activists. Monitoring political groups and activities deemed “threatening” (i.e. environmentalists, peace activists), expanding the already disastrous and wasteful war on drugs, and eavesdropping on journalists isn’t about fighting terrorism, it’s about stifling dissent and consolidating power – at the expense of civil liberties.
How ironic that the very “tool” hailed as our nation’s protector has instead been used to violate the very Constitutional protections we are allegedly defending from “attack” by outside threats. What was promised as a “temporary”, targeted law to keep us safe from terror has morphed into a rewriting of the Bill of Rights.