Friday, February 10, 2006

A New and Improved Patriot Act...


The Patriot Act, one of the most egregiously dangerous statutes in American history, appears closer to passage after some mild tinkering acceptable to the White House. The 'fixes' have satisfied the civil libertarian Republicans who joined with the Democrats in filibustering the initial bill. Apparently a couple of Democrats, surprisingly including Dick Durbin, are also satisfied. That means that at the very least, there are 59 Senators ready to sign off on the bill, one shy of the 60 needed to block any further filibuster attempt. From the NY Times

Four recalcitrant Senate Republicans said Thursday that they had reached agreement with the White House on the broad antiterrorism law known as the USA Patriot Act, and two leading Democrats said they would now support the bill. The moves possibly clear the way for passage of the legislation, which has been bottled up in a dispute over civil liberties.

...The deal focused on three particular areas. The new measure would give recipients of subpoenas the right to challenge an accompanying judicial order not to discuss the case publicly, though they would have to wait one year. In the meantime, they would have to comply with the subpoena. That would prevent the F.B.I. from demanding the names of lawyers consulted by people who receive secret government requests for information and prevent most libraries from being subject to those requests.

Critics said the changes were cosmetic.

A few insignificant changes just doesn't cut it," Senator Russell D. Feingold, Democrat of Wisconsin, said in a statement. "I cannot support this deal, and I will do everything I can to stop it."

The administration would still have the power to obtain information about terror suspects who use libraries to gain access to the Internet by seeking that information not directly from libraries, but from their Internet service providers.

...The compromise does not, however, address one of their chief complaints, that the revised bill would allow the government to obtain private records of Americans with just loose connections to a terrorism investigation. Mr. Sununu and the others had originally insisted that the government prove a direct connection. In its current version, the bill simply says the records have to be relevant to a terrorism investigation, a standard that Mr. Feingold said was "not adequate protection against a fishing expedition."
[Emphasis added]

You would think that the latest furor over government spying on Americans by illegal NSA wire taps might cause senators some unease in expanding further erosions on privacy, but apparently you would be wrong. The Patriot Act as now 're-written' still allows for the fishing expedition Russ Feingold properly decries. Why Sen. Durbin and Sen. Feingold are willing to settle for what can only be seen as mere cosmetic fixes is a real puzzle.

I think both senators need to hear from their constituents and all of the rest of us concerned about the Emperor's big ears and big eyes.

In fact, all of our senators need to hear from us. Some of them are up for re-election this year.


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