President George W. Bush is campaigning to extend and enhance the noxious USA PATRIOT Act.
Several provisions of the act are due to expire next year and the president is seeking to push a reluctant Congress to make them permanent. The provisions in question include those making it easier for law enforcement and intelligence agencies to share information about suspected terrorists, expanding the use of wiretaps and search warrants and allowing the government to track who is sending email to or receiving it from suspected terrorists.
Bush told a Buffalo audience in April that law enforcement was "fighting with one arm tied behind (its) back." The president also said that the act "defends our liberty, is what it does, under the Constitution of the United States."
He said the law -- which allowed the government to conduct secret searches and seize the bank, library, insurance and other business and educational records of suspected terrorists without consulting a judge or disclosing the searches to suspects -- broke down the wall keeping criminal investigators from sharing information.
Had the PATRIOT Act been in place prior to 9/11, the federal government would have had a better chance of foiling the plot, he told a Pennsylvania audience earlier in the month.
"Different people had a piece of the puzzle," he said (Washington Post). "But because of law, they couldn't get all the pieces in the same place."
This, of course, is ridiculous.
"Rather than addressing the real reasons behind national security failings in America, President Bush continues to argue that we must sacrifice liberty for security," Laura W. Murphy, director of the ACLU Washington Legislative Office, said in an April press release. "By overemphasizing the PATRIOT Act, the president is attempting to deflect criticism of a culture of secrecy that flourished in the nation' s intelligence agencies, which arguably led to 9/11."
The ACLU is one of several organizations fighting to convince Congress to extend the sunset provisions of the PATRIOT Act or to make them permanent law. There are 282 communities across the country -- including the city of New York and the state legislatures of Alaska, Hawaii, Vermont and Maine -- that have passed resolutions calling for changes to or cancellation of the PATRIOT Act. The ACLU says there are nearly 49 million Americans who now live in towns, counties or states that have adopted resolutions.
Congress passed the USA PATRIOT Act six weeks after the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks during an overnight session with little discussion. According to an ACLU fact sheet, much of the PATRIOT Act's changes to surveillance law "were part of a longstanding law enforcement wish list that had been previously rejected by Congress, in some cases repeatedly. Congress reversed course because it was bullied into it by the Bush administration in the frightening weeks after the Sept. 11 attack."
At the time, Congress put a time limit on portions of the law, planning to review it after two years. Now, however, despite significant opposition from civil liberties groups and members of his own party, the president is making the PATRIOT Act a significant portion of his own re-election campaign.
The ACLU wants Congress to "re-examine those sections of the law that are at the center of the public controversy."
"Two years after its passage, many look at the PATRIOT Act and realize that it went too far, too fast. Now is the time for careful deliberation, examination and fine-tuning -- not the blanket reauthorization that the president demands."
Among the changes being proposed are the Safety and Freedom Ensured Act. The bill has sponsors from both parties and both houses of Congress and "is designed to amend the most egregious provisions of the PATRIOT Act while still providing law enforcement with the tools needed to combat terrorism," the ACLU said. Congress also will consider the Freedom to Read Protection Act.
A coalition of groups representing booksellers, librarians and writers also are trying to collect more than one million signatures to persuade Congress to "restore safeguards for the privacy of bookstore and library records that were eliminated" by the PATRIOT Act.
The Campaign for Reader Privacy -- sponsored by the American Booksellers Association, the American Library Association and PEN American Center -- is gathering signatures in bookstores, libraries and on its Web site, www.readerprivacy.com.
"This isn't about stripping law enforcement of the power to investigate terrorism," Larry Siems, director of PEN's Freedom to Write Program, said when the campaign was launched. "It's about restoring confidence that our reading choices aren't being monitored by the government."
It's about restoring the safeguards to our liberties that the Bill or Rights was supposed to guarantee. To get involved with the Campaign for Reader Privacy, go to its Web site at www.readerprivacy.com. The American Civil Liberties Union can be contacted at 125 Broad Street, 18th Floor, New York, NY 10004, or at its Web site, www.aclu.org.
Hank Kalet is a poet and managing editor of the South Brunswick Post and the Cranbury Press. Email firstname.lastname@example.org.