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The Patriot Act: Myth and Reality

I actually came across this website and article on the PATRIOT Act while doing some research for another topic. But I found it pretty interesting and figured I would pass it along.

Via Go-Patriots: The Patriot Act: Myth and Reality

Download a pdf file HERE.

Myth: The ACLU claims that the Patriot Act “expands terrorism laws to include ‘domestic terrorism’ which could subject political organizations to surveillance, wiretapping, harassment, and criminal action for political advocacy.” They also claim that it includes a “provision that might allow the actions of peaceful groups that dissent from government policy, such as Greenpeace, to be treated as ‘domestic terrorism.’” (ACLU, February 11, 2003; ACLU fundraising letter, cited by Stuart Taylor in “UnPATRIOTic,” National Journal, August 4, 2003)

Reality: The Patriot Act limits domestic terrorism to conduct that breaks criminal laws, endangering human life. “Peaceful groups that dissent from government policy” without breaking laws cannot be targeted. Peaceful political discourse and dissent is one of America’s most cherished freedoms, and is not subject to investigation as domestic terrorism. Under the Patriot Act, the definition of “domestic terrorism” is limited to conduct that (1) violates federal or state criminal law and (2) is dangerous to human life. Therefore, peaceful political organizations engaging in political advocacy will obviously not come under this definition. (Patriot Act, Section 802)

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Myth: The ACLU has claimed that “Many [people] are unaware that their library habits could become the target of government surveillance. In a free society, such monitoring is odious and unnecessary. . . The secrecy that surrounds section 215 leads us to a society where the ‘thought police’ can target us for what we choose to read or what Websites we visit.” (ACLU, July 22, 2003)

Reality: The Patriot Act specifically protects Americans’ First Amendment rights, and terrorism investigators have no interest in the library habits of ordinary Americans. Historically, terrorists and spies have used libraries to plan and carry out activities that threaten our national security. If terrorists or spies use libraries, we should not allow them to become safe havens for their terrorist or clandestine activities. The Patriot Act ensures that business records — whether from a library or any other business — can be obtained in national security investigations with the permission of a federal judge.

Examining business records often provides the key that investigators are looking for to solve a wide range of crimes. Investigators might seek select records from hardware stores or chemical plants, for example, to find out who bought materials to make a bomb, or bank records to see who’s sending money to terrorists. Law enforcement authorities have always been able to obtain business records in criminal cases through grand jury subpoenas, and continue to do so in national security cases where appropriate. In a recent domestic terrorism case, for example, a grand jury served a subpoena on a bookseller to obtain records showing that a suspect had purchased a book giving instructions on how to build a particularly unusual detonator that had been used in several bombings. This was important evidence identifying the suspect as the bomber.

In national security cases where use of the grand jury process was not appropriate, investigators previously had limited tools at their disposal to obtain certain business records. Under the Patriot Act, the government can now ask a federal court (the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court), if needed to aid an investigation, to order production of the same type of records available through grand jury subpoenas. This federal court, however, can issue these orders only after the government demonstrates the records concerned are sought for an authorized investigation to obtain foreign intelligence information not concerning a U.S. person or to protect against international terrorism or clandestine intelligence activities, provided that such investigation of a U.S. person is not conducted solely on the basis of activities protected by the First Amendment.

Congress reviews the government’s use of business records under the Act. Every six months, the Attorney General must “fully inform” Congress on how it has been implemented. On October 17, 2002, the House Judiciary Committee issued a press release indicating it is satisfied with the Department’s use of section 215: “The Committee’s review of classified information related to FISA orders for tangible records, such as library records, has not given rise to any concern that the authority is being misused or abused.”

Those are just the first two of many, with very extensive research and citations. Be sure to click on the link and read them all. Great overall site as well. Be sure to check it out.

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April 17, 2008 , 10:52AM - Posted by | PATRIOT Act

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