by James Miller source: Penn Live June 4, 2011
After a two-day filibuster by Sen. Rand Paul of Kentucky, the U.S. Senate voted 72 to 23 for a four-year extension to the USA Patriot Act.
The Patriot Act, which passed immediately after the 9/11 terrorist attack and dramatically increased the government’s authority to search through private records without a warrant, holds an ironic name for a country founded on the principles of limited government.
Immediately after Senate approval, the House of Representatives went to work and passed the bill by a vote of 250-153. President Obama, who was visiting Europe at the time, gave the order to sign the act by what is known as the “autopen.”
So much for gridlock and a broken Congress.
And like that, a legitimate debate on civil liberties in this country is once again undermined in the name of the perpetual war on terror. While Republicans by and large support the Patriot Act, Democrats played a large part in getting the extension through Congress. That should not be surprising; the notion that Democrats are the anti-war party has always been laughable.
After all, World War I, World War II, the Korean War, and much of the Vietnam War were fought when Democrats were in the White House. Now, after nearly a decade of scathing criticism thrown at the Bush administration from the left, Democratic majority leader Sen. Harry Reid used several parliamentary maneuvers to circumvent a filibuster. Perhaps he does not remember back in 2005 when he triumphantly declared the Patriot Act “dead.”
With all the talk of debt reduction in Congress, the extension of the Patriot Act signifies neither party’s interest in winding down the largest military budget in this country’s history. Yet Obama’s supporters in the media have barely batted an eye.
The Fourth Amendment of the Constitution that guards against unreasonable search and seizure is irrelevant when it comes to scoring political points. Actually, you might as well add the whole of the Constitution to that generalization.
The lack of outrage from the public toward the Patriot Act comes down to lack of knowledge of what it allows for. The law doesn’t magically give intelligence bureaucrats the foresight to track the dealings of terrorists. It is much more personal.
Imagine yourself on the phone paying for a VISA bill that totals more than $5,000. Because payments over the phone are technically wire transfers and the payment amounts to more than $5,000, you can bet that someone in the federal government is observing and recording the transaction.
This isn’t conspiracy theory run amuck; it is a literal provision in the Patriot Act that is enforced.
From your VISA bill, the federal government can derive what type of medication you take, what kind of firearms you purchase and what types of books you read. Even phone companies such as Verizon and AT&T are prohibited from informing you that your conversations are being monitored. These provisions might seem insignificant, but angels will not always be in charge of monitoring your private activities.
Rather than have a legitimate debate on the role of privacy in the war on terror, Congress did what it does best and waited until the midnight hour to pass the extension without substantial discussion.
The Patriot Act has become symbolic of the frightening notion that as citizens we are no longer innocent until proven guilty, but rather we are assumed guilty and must prove our innocence.
It is a mockery of the principles this country was founded on.
Benjamin Franklin famousely opined that “they who can give up essential liberty to obtain a little temporary safety, deserve neither liberty or safety.”
Liberties are never lost all at once and complacency and apathy are the perfect mixture to dissolve them further.
It is well past time to have a meaningful debate on the role of civil liberties in this country and how much we are willing to give up in the name of “safety.”