Dec 12, 2005
Did anyone believe the “USA PATRIOT” Act would be temporary? Congress is about to put that lie to rest. Politicians from the House and Senate reached an agreement that not only extends it, but makes it worse.
The so-called “compromise” bill makes permanent 14 out of 16 provisions set to expire at the end of this year.
The bill extends the government’s ability to demand customer records from libraries and businesses, such as telephone companies and internet providers. The bill pretends to let record-holders challenge the demands in court – but when intelligence agencies say the records are needed for national security reasons or criminal investigations, the courts must approve their demands. And the bill imposes a prison sentence of up to five years for anyone who discloses a request for records “with the intent to obstruct an investigation.” This means a librarian, who might publicly object to turning over patron records, can be imprisoned for five years.
The bill permits intelligence agencies to conduct searches of people’s homes or businesses without informing them for 30 days. In addition, it lets the FBI take an individual’s financial records and internet transactions without even asking court approval.
Of course, courts have never provided much protection to individuals the government wished to harass or persecute. But the government’s refusal even to go through the courts shows its intent to attack anyone opposing its policies.
Nearly 400 communities and seven states have passed resolutions against the infringements on civil liberties in the “PATRIOT” Act. But resolutions alone have never stopped the government from invading people’s lives.
In those periods when social movements responded to such government attacks, their actions imposed limits on the government.
The “PATRIOT” Act can be made a dead letter today when this generation follows in its predecessors’ footsteps.