The Militant (logo)  

Vol. 75/No. 23      June 13, 2011

White House renews broad
spy powers of Patriot Act
(front page)
President Barack Obama renewed several Patriot Act provisions May 26 giving government snoops wide latitude to wiretap, search personal papers, and spy on individuals they claim are connected to “terrorism.” All without having to provide a single fact to back their accusations.

The Patriot Act is “an important tool for us to continue dealing with an ongoing terrorist threat,” Obama said. The act—a frontal assault on the Bill of Rights—was adopted with only one vote opposed in the Senate in 2001.

During a brief Congressional debate on the renewed provisions, the most controversial was Section 215, giving the FBI access to any individual’s bank records, medical histories, and personal papers such as diaries and letters. All the federal cops need to do is have a Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act (FISA) court rubber stamp the spying as necessary “to protect against international terrorism.”

The use of secret courts to provide legal cover for systematic violations of constitutional protections came at the initiative of liberals after the Watergate scandal of the 1970s. Self-proclaimed “civil libertarians” pushed to create these special snoopers’ courts as a way to help the government spy on workers by setting up phony “checks and balances.”

An FBI request to the FISA court need not include even a pretense of factual justification. The “court” cannot deny an investigation “certified” by the FBI as having to do with “terrorism” or “espionage.” A person targeted by Section 215 has no right to legally challenge it. Any entity forced to turn over records, a public library or doctor’s office for example, is prohibited even from telling anyone about it.

The FBI applied for—and was granted “permission” for—more than 1,500 electronic surveillance operations and other searches last year.

Democratic senator Ron Wyden, a member of the Senate Intelligence Committee, said the Justice Department “interpretation” of Section 215 is even more sweeping and invasive in practice than its language would lead one to believe. “When the American people find out how their government has secretly interpreted the Patriot Act, they will be stunned and they will be angry,” he said. Sen. Mark Udall, who is also on the Intelligence Committee, made similar remarks.

The two senators notwithstanding, “the American people” have no way to “find out,” since the Justice Department’s interpretation of Section 215 remains classified.

The Obama administration had no comment.

A second Patriot Act provision that was renewed sanctions roving wiretaps, allowing the police to listen in on an individual’s phone conversations no matter what phone they’re using.

The third provision is known as the “Lone Wolf” section. It authorizes spying on anyone the government brands a “terrorist” even without evidence of connection to a government-targeted group or foreign government.

In the Senate, the vote was 72 to 23 in favor of the bill. Among those opposed was Republican senator Rand Paul of Kentucky. Paul demanded a full debate on the Patriot Act, which he said is an invasion of privacy. He backed two amendments to the act that failed. One would have exempted gun purchase records from the documents the police can request a business turn over. The other would make the police, not banks, responsible for “suspicious activity reports” on individuals’ financial activities.

Democratic Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid said, “We would be giving terrorists the opportunity to plot attacks against our country, undetected,” if the measures were not renewed. Attorney General Eric Holder said, “We never want to see these acts, these provisions, expire.”
Related articles:
New Zealand meeting protests gov’t frame-up
FBI probe against Somalis targets rights of workers
‘To U.S. capitalist rulers, workers are presumed guilty’  
Front page (for this issue) | Home | Text-version home