Those who founded this country knew quite well that every citizen must remain vigilant or freedom would be lost. This is the true nature of a patriot—one who sounds the clarion call when the Constitution is under attack. If, on the other hand, the people become sheep-like, it will lead to a government of wolves. This is what we are faced with today as Congress marches in lockstep with the White House to renew the USA PATRIOT Act.
The PATRIOT Act drove a stake through the heart of the Bill of Rights, violating at least six of the ten original amendments—the First, Fourth, Fifth, Sixth, Seventh and Eighth Amendments—and possibly the Thirteenth and Fourteenth Amendments, as well. The PATRIOT Act also redefined terrorism so broadly that many nonterrorist political activities such as protest marches, demonstrations, and civil disobedience were considered potential terrorist acts, thereby rendering anyone desiring to engage in protected First Amendment expressive activities as suspects of the surveillance state.
The PATRIOT Act justified broader domestic surveillance, the logic being that if government agents knew more about each American, they could distinguish the terrorists from law-abiding citizens—no doubt an earnest impulse shared by small-town police and federal agents alike. According to Washington Post reporter Robert O’Harrow Jr., this was a fantasy that had “been brewing in the law-enforcement world for a long time.” And 9/11 provided the government with the perfect excuse for conducting far-reaching surveillance and collecting mountains of information on even the most law-abiding citizen. …
Despite campaign promises to the contrary, Barack Obama has proven to be little better than George Bush in terms of civil liberties. For example, on Feb. 27, 2010, just a little over a year after taking office, Obama quietly signed into law three controversial provisions of the PATRIOT Act that were set to expire. The “roving wiretaps” provision allows the FBI to wiretap phones in multiple homes without having to provide the target’s name or even phone number—merely the possibility that a suspect “might” use the phone is enough to justify the wiretap. The “lone wolf” provision allows intelligence gathering of people not suspected of being part of a foreign government or known terrorist organization. And Section 215 allows court-approved seizure of records and property in antiterrorism operations.
Then, one year later, in February 2011, Congress approved a 90-day extension of those very same provisions, which Obama once again signed into law. Now, rather than expiring quietly, those provisions are once again up for reauthorization on May 28, thanks to the handiwork of Rep. Jim Sensenbrenner (R-Wisc.), a senior member of the House Judiciary Committee, with backing from Reps. Lamar Smith (R-Texas) and Mike Rogers (R-Mich.), the chairmen of the judiciary and intelligence committees, respectively. Unfortunately, not only are Sensenbrenner and his cohorts pushing to extend the first two controversial provisions (allowing “roving wiretaps” of phones used by terror suspects and allowing federal investigators to compel production of business records) for six more years, they have also proposed making permanent the “lone wolf” provision, allowing the government to monitor individuals who they believe are terrorists even though they might not have ties to a specific group.
With or without the help of the PATRIOT Act, the American government, never a staunch advocate of civil liberties, has been writing its own orders for some time now. Indeed, not long after 9/11, I had an FBI agent say as much to me, suggesting that my efforts to oppose the PATRIOT Act were pointless. And, in fact, as the McCarthy era and the wiretapping of Martin Luther King Jr. illustrated, the government’s amassing of power, especially in relation to its ability to spy on Americans, predates the passage of the PATRIOT Act in 2001.
Yet what the PATRIOT Act and its subsequent incarnations did was legitimize what had previously been covert and frowned upon as a violation of Americans’ long-cherished privacy rights. Thus, what began with the passage of the USA PATRIOT Act in the fall of 2001 has snowballed into a massive assault on our constitutional freedoms, our system of government, and our fundamental philosophies and way of life…