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24: Fix the USA PATRIOT Act

In the last couple of weeks very important things have been going on in the realm of Civil Liberties, and our concern for issues like Health Care, Iran, Afghanistan and the Chicago bid for the Olympics have distracted us from it. And  it is not going well. You can help. Help put pressure on the US Senate and House of Representatives to put important protections of the rights of "US persons", our citizens and resident aliens into the law as it is renewed.

Fox on PATRIOT: A Video Fisking

If you listen to Fox News, "Some on the Left" or "Some Democrats" want to strip the federal government of critical powers to protect us from terrorists. Unfortunately, as they are making these claims in defense of the USA PATRIOT Act, they get most of the facts wrong. Julian Sanchez of the CATO Institute has a video and blog posting that tears their coverage apart.

So what is really going on? If the Democrats aren't trying to completely eliminate valuable anti-terrorist tools, what has been happening the last two weeks?

First of all, several sections of the USA PATRIOT Act are up for re-authorization, because they were passed with a "sunset clause" that makes them expire at the end of the year. According to even official Inspector General reports from both administrations, the Patriot act has lead to substantial abuse of US Citizens constittution rights. In response to these abuses Senators Feingold and Durbin introduced an act called the "JUSTICE Act". "JUSTICE, like "USA PATRIOT" is a goofy acronym, in this case standing for "Judicious Use of Surveillance Tools In Counterterrorism Efforts. Note that while I'll call the acronym goofy, but the act itself is far from that. It basically insures that a number of these special powers authorized in the USA PATRIOT Act and other post-9/11 legislation are only used against terrorism, that the government has to establish a connection to terrorists in order to use "John Doe roving wire taps", "sneak and peek" secret searches, "National Security Letters" and other procedures.

A broad coalition supported the JUSTICE Act. Senator Leahy, however, submitted his own bill that offered fewer limitations and protections and the Senate Judiciary Committee (SJC), which Leahy heads, decided to use it as a starting point. Many of us started to agitate to get pieces of the JUSTICE Act supported as amendments to the Leahy bill. The evening before the bill was taken up by the committee, Diane Feinstein, chairman of the Senate Intelligence Committee made a deal with Leahy. An even weaker bill that she largely wrote, and which he cosponsored, replaced the Leahy bill as the starting point. Only a small amount of work happened on that bill last Thursday, before it was postponed until this coming Thursday, due to conflicts caused by the Senate also doing markup on the Health Care bill which was drawing Senators away.

Resources: Comparisons of the JUSTICE Act and Leahy's bill from Center for Democracy and Technology, Julian Sanchez on Cato@Liberty, and Marcy Wheeler on Emptywheel.
Resources: Reactions to last week's SJC meeting from the EFF, the ACLU, David Kravetz, Wired's Threat Level

Natural Rights and the USA PATRIOT Act

And that brings us to this week and Thursday's coming second round of markup on the bill. We, that is grass roots civil libertarians, Get FISA Right, the ACLU, the EFF and others, would like you as citizens, as bloggers, as Facebook and Twitter users to make you voices heard. We'd like you to blog, tweet and write about this effort in order to get as many people as possible involved, and for all of you and them to bring pressure to bear on your senators, especially if one of your senators sits on the Judiciary Committee, and your Congressmen and any other Senators and Congressmen you may support, contribute to or know, to do the right thing. To work for and support amendments, whether they come from the JUSTICE Act or other sources that restrict the circumstances and the purposes under which these powers can be used.

Why? Well, I started out bashing Fox coverage on this, let me now shift to praising one Fox commentator and recommending that you listen to his highly knowledgeable and impassioned speech against the USA PATRIOT Act and National Security Letters. Please watch Judge Andrew Napolitano's speech on "Natural Rights and The Patriot Act", shown here. His explanations of the history of our Constitution, laws and the abuses of citizens' rights regarding the USA PATRIOT Act and National Security letters are well worth listening to whether your politics are left, right or center. I recommend watching all three parts.

As ever, I don't want you to just believe what I say. I want you to read and listen and learn. Form your own opinions. I've included a number of links to pertinent resources in the posting above and the two videos. Get FISA Right has a resource page with more links and more calls to action. Please read there. Join us when several of us live blog during the hearings on Thursday. If you agree with us sign and retweet our Twitter petitions. Blog about what you believe, but above all, be a Free Voice. Be a voice for freedom.

Resources: Our Twitter Petition: "@RussFeingold and @SenDurbin, thanks for your tireless efforts to reform the #patriotact http://act.ly/kn (please RT)"
Resources for activists: Get FISA Right's "How to help bring JUSTICE to the PATRIOT Act" page.
Resources for bloggers: Get FISA Right's "JUSTICE Act blogger resources" page.
Resources: For live-blogging: Get FISA Right's Patriot Act Action Hub

Vox Libertas,
Jim Burrows