Neo-Cons Want Patriot Act Extended
24 GOP members of Congress approve of legislation extending worst aspects of reviled Patriot Acts
REPUBLICAN MEMBERS in Congress introduced legislation in early March to reauthorize some of the most controversial portions of the misnamed Patriot Act, which are set to expire this year.
Reps. Eric Cantor (Va.), John Boehner (Ohio), Mike Pence (Ind.), Lamar Smith (Tex.) and 20 other neo-conservative congressmen signed onto the Safe and Secure America Act of 2009, which seeks to extend for an additional 10 years provisions that allow federal authorities to conduct warrantless surveillance, to access library patron information and to bypass privacy protections in the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act.
“The Patriot Act is a part of helping to keep America safe,” Boehner told reporters during a press conference on March 12, “and we’ve got to do everything we can in this time of economic crisis to protect our citizens from those who’d want to harm us.”
When the Patriot Act was first passed by Congress one month after the Sept. 11, 2001 attacks, privacy groups objected to the freedom-robbing measure. At the time, legislators claimed that the bill would only be temporary following 9-11. Eight years later, the most troubling portions of the legislation are still law even though the provisions were set to expire at the end of 2005. That year, Congress hastily passed legislation which kept the measures in full force.
There has been much debate over the Patriot Act’s effectiveness other than sending the country further down the slippery slope of a police state. The FBI’s own inspector general found that federal law enforcement regularly applied the new law for the purpose of prosecuting other criminal activity that was outside the intent of the original legislation.
The American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) recently issued a report which details how federal agents abused provisions in the Patriot Act, applying them to cases not related to terrorism. In addition, the ACLU found that the Patriot Act has had little tangible effect on the prosecution of terrorist suspects. The government claims it has prosecuted 400 terrorist cases in seven years as a result of the Patriot Act, but the truth, according to the ACLU, is that only 39 of these resulted in actual convictions for terrorism.
In addition, “the median sentence for these crimes was 11 months, which indicates the crime the government equated with terrorism was not serious,” reported the ACLU.
“More than seven years after its implementation, there is little evidence to demonstrate that the Patriot Act has made America more secure from terrorists,” said the ACLU’s report. “The Patriot Act vastly—and unconstitutionally—expanded the government’s authority to pry into people’s private lives with little or no evidence of wrongdoing.”
(Issue # 13, March 30, 2009)