Originally passed in 2001 as a ready response but temporary measure to the 9/11 attacks, the Patriot Act was renewed in 2005, 2009, and in 2010, in what appears to be a classic example of kicking the can down the road. By extending the Patriot Act one year at a time, Congressmen are relieved of the burden of having this very unpopular mass surveillance bill’s permanent passage on their record. Instead, they continue to fly under the radar eschewing backlash from the folks back home, ignoring the fact that it is now a permanent and critical element that has drastically changed America, and not just for the traveling public.
The purpose of H.R. 67 is “To extend expiring provisions of the USA PATRIOT Improvement and Reauthorization Act of 2005 and Intelligence Reform and Terrorism Prevention Act of 2004 until February 29, 2012.” It was introduced by a “conservative” Republican, Mike Rogers from Michigan, and has no sponsors as of this writing. It is a carbon copy of the previous year's expansion legislation, without promised reforms of any kind.
Rogers was named chairman of the House Permanent Select Committee on Intelligence by House Speaker John Boehner. In a short bio on his website, Rogers is said to have helped author the original Patriot Act and all its subsequent renewals. He is a former Army officer and FBI Special Agent, dedicated to fighting "organized crime and public corruption in Chicago,” which might explain his penchant for wanting to peek into private lives in defiance of the Fourth Amendment.
Senator Patrick Leahy, (D-Vermont) has placed the Patriot Act Extension high on the priority list for his Senate Judiciary Committee which will begin hearings on this and several other issues January 26. He also intends to delve into privacy issues such as the body scanning of all citizens at airports and tracking private American’s online transactions and activities. Even though he claims he is concerned about “Constitutional Rights in the Digital Age,” he sees nothing wrong with updating the Electronic Communications Privacy Act portion “so that security agencies have the tools needed to keep us safe from cyber threats.”
The FBI actually wants the statute found in the Electronic Communications Privacy Act that allows the issuance of National Security Letters authorizing the searching of phone records and Internet activity, to be greatly expanded. This would grant the FBI access to incredibly private information -- the websites you visit, search history, social networking activity and even information pinpointing your location -- without probable cause or court order.
Since the founding of these United States and adoption of the Fourth Amendment, but before the Patriot Act, intrusive investigative techniques had to be properly authorized under the law. Reasonable suspicion, probable cause, and due process were the guardians of personal privacies. Under the Patriot Act, these have been disregarded.
Will the new Congress act responsibly and unite to protect Constitutionally guaranteed privacy and liberty, voting against this massive information collection, power-grabbing scheme? Or will they spew forth the usual jargon citing grave threats against national security and peace, then voting to gradually eliminate our civil liberties and rights under their self-appointed role as overzealous security guards for the homeland.
In order to restore Constitutional protections, whispers of the Patriot Act’s extension in February 2011 must turn into a roar of thunderous objections. Help put and end to expanding the existing domestic spying program; contact your Senators and Representatives and insist they vote against the Patriot Act renewal in order to let the sun go down on this one, forever.
Your friends at The John Birch Society