Michael: The Day the 4th Amendment DiedThe House OKed renewed almost all PATRIOT Act powers on a largely partisan vote of 257-171. The Senate will take up reauthorization next. I pray that they will show greater restraint and wisdom.
The PATRIOT Act was born as a wizz-bang grab-bag of police powers that federal law enforcement had been pipe-dreaming about for decades. It was only the tragedy of 9/11 that allowed it to pass with only one NO vote (the brave Sen. Fiengold), and no public debate.
Now, it is being reauthorized with little debate on how it's been used for the past 4 years, little evidence that the new powers are effective, nor any requirement that the new powers be used only for terrorism investigation. In fact, the evidence we do have, from Ashcroft's report on the Act and Senate hearings, suggests the new powers are overwhelmingly being used for standard criminal investigations, and even domestic spying on peaceful domestic activists. I do not approve of my government stripping me of my constitutional rights so that the FBI and DEA can improve their stats on street and drug busts and keep tabs on civil rights lawyers and whale-huggers.
It seems to me questionable, even ill-considered timing that reauthorization be taken up so close to the events of 7/7. I don't suggest any conspiracy, but it does seem that the GOP is striking while the iron is still hot, so to speak, to reauthorize an immensely unpopular, and constitutionally suspect set of laws. Some of the PATRIOT provisions are sensible and useful reforms which should be retained, no doubt, but too many cut so deeply into the heart of the 4th Amendment, it doesn't seem likely to survive.
With the independent judiciary being actively attacked from the Right (even according to Justice O'Connor), the bench may be too weak, and too ideologically compromised, to vigorously protect Americans' rights under the 4th against PATRIOT's assault in a 'time of war,' especially when ever expanding capability of both private and goverment snoops to dataveil a citizen's every step, it may just be a matter of time before the 4th is as much dead letter law as the Priviledges and Immunities clause.
If our right to a sphere of privacy around our daily affairs is only respected in the breach, rather than in the main, the result will be the end of America as a place where the right to be let alone can be take as granted. Is that the America that lives in in your heart? It's not the one in mine.