Wednesday, May 6, 2015

Once It Was Unpatriotic to Vote against the Patriot Act

After 9/11/01, a document which many claim had been festering in Vice President Dick Cheney’s desk drawer for quite a while, was withdrawn, updated and shoved before a Congress that actually did feel that it would be political suicide to vote against the Uniting and Strengthening America by Providing Appropriate Tools Required to Intercept and Obstruct Terrorism Act of 2001 (the “USA PATRIOT ACT of 2001”). With little more than a day or two to read and digest a bill that was over 300 pages long, Congress passed the bill a little over a month after the attacks. You know virtually no one read that statute. But after all, it was the Patriot Act!
“From broad concern felt among Americans from both the September 11 attacks and the 2001 anthrax attacks, Congress rushed to pass legislation to strengthen security controls. On October 23, 2001, Republican Rep. Jim Sensenbrenner introduced H.R. 3162 incorporating provisions from a previously sponsored House bill and a Senate bill also introduced earlier in the month. The next day on October 24, 2001, the Act passed the House 357 to 66, with Democrats comprising the overwhelming portion of dissent. The following day, on October 25, 2001, the Act passed the Senate by 98 to 1.” Wikipedia.
The statute was extended a couple of times, but Congress is now looking at the next extension with a jaded eye, from both sides of the aisle. The Edward Snowden’s revelations had a deep impact on everyone, even though Mr. Snowden is still a wanted man in his home country… the good old USA… for his troubles. Waterboarding and lots of other nasty wiretap disclosures were not enough to impact the earlier Congressional sessions, but Mr. Snowden’s work tipped the apple cart over.
Bipartisan support in both chambers of Congress, even over the objections of GOP Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (it would be his first defeat in the new Congress), are slowly marching out of committee and down the road to passage. Both Republicans and Democrats are realizing how un-American and un-patriotic that statute really is and how powerfully the underlying Constitutional rights have been abused. Even the Tea Party is outraged. The House Judiciary Committee passed amendatory legislation 25 to 2, a clear indication that the United States might actually believe that individual rights are what this country is all about.
“The push for reform is the strongest demonstration yet of a decade-long shift from a singular focus on national security at the expense of civil liberties to a new balance in the post-Snowden era.
“Under the bipartisan bills in the House and Senate, the Patriot Act would be changed to prohibit bulk collection, and sweeps that had operated under the guise of so-called National Security Letters issued by the F.B.I. would end. The data would instead be stored by the phone companies themselves, and could be accessed by intelligence agencies only after approval of the secret Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act court.
“The legislation would also create a panel of experts to advise the FISA court on privacy, civil liberties, and technology matters, while requiring the declassification of all significant FISA court opinions…
“Unlike last year, when a similar bill passed the House overwhelmingly but failed in the Senate, this year’s USA Freedom Act was drafted in delicate negotiations among the House Judiciary Committee, House Intelligence Committee, House Republican leaders and supporters in the Senate. The Senate, now in Republican control, includes four freshmen who supported the bill in the House last year.
“The act, which expires June 1, is up for its first reauthorization since the revelations about bulk data collection. That impending deadline, coupled with an increase of support among members of both parties, pressure from technology companies and a push from the White House have combined to make changes to the provisions more likely.” New York Times, April 30th.
Even if these changes get by some serious hurdles in the Senate, is what is proposed even enough? “Many privacy advocates say the bill doesn't go far enough, because it doesn't address the section of the Patriot Act that the government uses to authorize PRISM, a program that allows the NSA to access private online user-data from major U.S. internet companies.”, May 1st. Hmmm… Today, it just might be un-patriotic to vote to leave the Patriot Act as it is.
I’m Peter Dekom, and shoving smoke back into a bottle and curing NSA information addiction/obsession are going to be interesting… very interesting.

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