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How the Patriot Act Is Being Used to Fight the Drug War and Eavesdrop on Journalists

The Constitutional “precedent” set by the Patriot Act appears to be serving to accelerate the rapid disintegration of civil liberties in this country.

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Now, channeling none other than George W. Bush himself, President Obama warns that any delay of the complete and absolute renewal of the Act - or even the addition of a single privacy protection - would endanger American lives.

Thus, what was once viewed as the signature of Bush/Cheney radicalism is now official, bipartisan Washington consensus – serving to codify our country’s continued departure from its commitment to the basic tenets articulated in the Bill of Rights.

Attempted Reforms Ignored, Rejected

Efforts to address the most dangerous and far reaching components of the Patriot Act have been repeatedly offered by Senators and House members alike – to no avail. The reforms sought have been modest in nature, targeted in scope, and critical to reining in government abuse – without weakening national security.

For example, this year, Senator Bernie Sanders offered an amendment - supported by the American Library Association, the ACLU and the National Association of Booksellers - which would have prevented the government from gaining access to Americans' reading records in libraries and bookstores without a traditional search warrant.

Similarly, former Senator Russ Feingold, during a previous Patriot Act extension fight, sought to require the government to specify more clearly the targets of their investigations and their connections to terrorism, keep the FBI from using its authority to engage in broad-based data-mining of Americans’ phone, library and business records, more effective checks on government searches of Americans’ personal records, reform the FISA Amendments Act by repealing the retroactive immunity provision for the same telecom companies that continue to make billions off overcharging the very customers they betrayed, and prevent “bulk collection” of the contents of Americans’ international communications.

Not only have such attempts been rejected year after year, many aren’t even granted a Congressional hearing or vote. Just as disturbing is the failure of the mainstream media to dedicate any significant time and attention to an issue that so clearly warrants a vigorous national debate – such as how to strike the proper balance between civil liberties and national security.

The Bill of Rights Under Siege

Some important questions demand answers: Does increasingly intrusive and even unconstitutional anti-terrorism measures actually make us any safer (or less so)? If so, what is the price we are willing to pay for that additionally security?

Since 9/11 an undeniable pattern has emerged, from illegal search and seizures to warrantless wiretapping to the GPS tracking of cell phones to airport body scanners to the redefinition of Habeas Corpus to the increasing use of rendition for the purposes of torturing prisoners yet to be charged with a crime to military tribunals replacing courts of law, among many others.

What were once considered unassailable civil liberties granted to ALL citizens are under siege. The consequences of such a loss would be profound. Without the fundamental reform of the Patriot Act I fear this loss will be a permanent, and the American experiment will forever be altered.

Moving Forward: Building a Left/Right Coalition

So what to do? From a purely ideological perspective, the potential exists for growing a left/right coalition around a mutual commitment to the Bill of Rights. Already, more than 400 local, county and state resolutions have been passed in opposition to the Patriot Act. But, interest and opposition energy has largely waned over time. This must change.

On the left, while there still remains significant opposition (as evidenced by the recent votes in the House and Senate), a much larger and vocal effort existed when President Bush was abusing the same powers that exist now – no doubt in part due to sharing party affiliation with the new President. We must make the case to these voters that regardless of who sits in the White House, these are powers that NO branch of government, or intelligence agency, deserves.

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