Monday, February 14, 2011

Extension of Patriot Act Provisions

The House voted tonight to temporarily extend three expiring provisions of the Patriot Act. In my opinion, the GOP is a bit too eager to sign on with anything supposedly justified by national security. Here's a description of what they voted for, courtesy of the Wall Street Journal.
The provisions in question give law enforcement access to troves of personal information, including business and library records, if a judge approves. They also permit roving wiretaps on terrorism suspects who change numbers, and allow surveillance of foreign terrorism suspects who appear unaffiliated with known groups such as al Qaeda.
I have no problem at all with the last provision. Foreign suspects are not and should not be entitled to the same rights of Americans. In their case we should err on the side of protecting the U.S. That aspect of the Patriot Act should be permanent. But the first two provisions are problematic to say the least.

The first power appears to give the government almost unlimited power to go on a fishing expedition to hook anyone suspected of terrorism, with the sole check of a judge's approval. The second is also way too vague for my liking. How hard is it to define someone as a terrorism suspect and therefore get approval for a roving wiretap? Representative James Sensenbrenner (R-Wisconsin)wants to make all three provisions permanent, and argues that,
We can't let our guard down," ..."These are needed measures to keep our nation safe."
Hopefully the Senate will take a hard look at the specifics of the first two provisions and try to determine if Sensenbrenner's assertion holds water.

I know the GOP is extremely pro-national security -- and that's a good thing -- but that doesn't mean it should support every single big government national security power without question. The Patriot Act, as I understand it, was meant as a series of temporary measures in the fight against Al Qaeda after 9/11. Giving the government permanent extensive surveillance powers over American citizens in the name of national security should raise many questions and not be done in haste.

1 comment:

  1. Good post, but I've said it before and I'll say it again: I don't like your arbitrary discrimination between the rights of US citizens, and those of foreigners.

    I think I understand your argument (that when considering outcomes benefits/costs to the US must be considered first), I just disagree with it.

    I disagree because I think if you take a long view, you can't have a stable and productive society in the US unless you have them elsewhere.