Kill the PATRIOT Act

May 24, 2011 Posted by zachary

This is a letter I wrote to my senators after reading that they allowed the PATRIOT Act to continue through the senate without a vote. Senator Tom Coburn voted for the motion. Senator James Inhofe did not vote.

I am disappointed to see that you have allowed the PATRIOT Act to continue through the senate without debate. The fact that the US government saw fit to violate the privacy and due process rights of its citizens is bad enough, but to continue to allow this breach of our Constitutional rights is an even worse infringement against the American people.

I would certainly hope that when it actually comes to voting for this extension that you will vote against it. I am getting sick of every move by this once great nation as it becomes more and more of the totalitarian state that we claim to despise in other countries governments.

It is time to stop treating every citizen of this nation as if they were a terrorist. We need to end the PATRIOT Act, the TSA and the DHS. They are doing nothing but providing the illusion of security at the cost of the privacy and due process rights of the people.

If you have actually suspicion that would convince a judge to issue a warrant against specific individuals of interest, so be it. But do not think that the people of this nation will continue to roll over and have their rights stripped from them.

If you continue to support moves such as you did with the PATRIOT Act, I will be voting against you in the next election and actively encouraging other to do like wise. We need people who honor, support and uphold the constitution, not people who toss it out with the trash. We the People deserve better than that.

UPDATE: Senator Inhofe has responded to me with what looks like a prewritten letter that “addresses” my concerns. Forgive me if I am not moved by the US government’s need to violate our 4th and 5th amendment rights in order to make law enforcement and intelligence gathering easier. Full text of his reply here:

Thank you for contacting me about the USA Patriot Act.  As your voice in Washington, I appreciate being made aware of your views.

The Uniting and Strengthening America by Providing Appropriate Tools Required to Intercept and Obstruct Terrorism Act of 2001 (USA Patriot Act) was originally passed by large margins in both the House and Senate during the 107th Congress and signed into law on October 26th, 2001.  Since then, the Patriot Act has come under attack from time to time by various groups for perceived assaults on our liberties.  I sympathize with concerns regarding our liberties and remain committed to pursuing avenues that further protect them.

Recently, H.R. 514, the FISA Sunsets Extension Act of 2011, was signed by President Obama and extends the provisions concerning Section 215 orders for tangible items as well as the “roving wiretap” and “lone wolf” terrorist provision until May 27, 2011.

The “roving wiretaps” provision will allow law enforcement officials to monitor multiple communications devices of an individual without the need to acquire a warrant for each device. The roving wiretaps provision was designed to allow investigators to quickly monitor the communications of suspects who change their cell phone or communications device, without investigators being required to go back to court for a new court authorization.

The “lone wolf” provision will permit law enforcement officials to track lone wolf suspects who may not belong to a terrorist group but may be planning attacks. This provision allows counterterrorism investigators to obtain a FISA warrant even if they are not able to connect the individual to a country or a specific terrorist group.

Under Section 215, business records of national security targets to be obtained from third parties. This provision allows the FBI to obtain “any tangible things,” like credit card and bank statements and also allows access to medical and mental health records. The provision has been used to obtain communication and subscriber information to help set up surveillance and monitoring of computers and telephones.  H.R. 514 would require the government to meet a higher burden of proof to establish that a person or tangible object, such as a computer or cell phone record, is relevant in a terrorism case.

Some groups have sought to undermine the Patriot Act by spreading misinformation about the law. I have examined the substance of such claims. For example, some have claimed that Section 215 of the Patriot Act allows the FBI to request an individual’s library records without a warrant and without the individual being notified of the FBI’s request. This is simply not true.  Section 215 allows the FBI to request a warrant for the search of:

any tangible things (including books, records, papers, documents, and other items) for an investigation to protect against international terrorism or clandestine intelligence activities, provided that such investigation of a United States person is not conducted solely upon the basis of activities protected by the first amendment to the Constitution.

While library records could fall under this definition, Section 215 states that a warrant must be obtained in order for the FBI to obtain those records.  The Patriot Act also requires that the Department of Justice notify Congress every six months when such a warrant under Section 215 was requested.

The use of roving wire taps and what are known as “sneak and peek” warrants (where the FBI is allowed by the court to enter an individual’s home, look at the contents of the home, place wiretaps and cameras, seize property, and leave without immediately notifying the homeowner of the search) have long been used by law enforcement in the battle against drug trafficking and organized crime and have consistently been upheld as constitutional by the Supreme Court. They have also proven useful in preventing suspects from tampering with vital evidence and providing protection for law enforcement officials from potentially violent suspects. The ability for law enforcement to use these powers has always been narrowly defined and was expanded to include terrorism by the Patriot Act.

The intent of the Patriot Act is to allow the intelligence and law enforcement communities to share information and expand certain long-upheld investigative practices to include terrorist activities. Many different officials from the law enforcement and intelligence communities from both the Clinton and Bush Administrations either directly or indirectly praised the Patriot Act in the 9-11 Commission Hearings.  Moreover, the Justice Department recently indicated that the Obama Administration is in support of renewing the PATRIOT Act.  In a letter to lawmakers, Justice Department officials said the administration is willing to consider additional privacy protections as long as they do not weaken the effectiveness of the law.

Furthermore, Attorney General Eric Holder recently referred to the alleged domestic terrorism plot involving Najibullah Zazi, an Afghan immigrant with alleged connections to al Qaeda, as one of the largest terrorist threats to the United States since September 11, 2001.  Holder further stated, “I think that the [Patriot Act] provisions that are being considered for reauthorization now provide us with a lot of useful tools that we have used not only in this matter but in others to protect our nation.”

Also related to the Patriot Act is the use of National Security Letters (NSLs).  An NSL is a written command similar to an administrative subpoena.  NSLs seek customer and consumer transaction information in national security investigations from communications providers, financial institutions, and consumer credit reporting agencies.  Only certain government intelligence agencies have the authorization to issue such letters.  Principally among those is the Federal Bureau of Investigation.

For many years, NSLs have played a critical role in the fight against terrorism.  Introduced in 1978, NSLs were originally a provision in the Right to Financial Privacy Act (RFPA).  The use of the letter has increased since the passing of the Patriot Act in the wake of September 11th terrorist attacks, but stronger procedural protections and oversights concerning the letters have increased as well.   In 2006, the USA Patriot Improvement and Reauthorization Act gave NSL addressees the right to petition the letters to a district court to modify or set aside the NSL.  These letters continue to be extraordinarily useful in the fight against terrorism as they allow the FBI to track down terrorists through their use of financial transactions.  As long as they remain effective, I will continue to support NSLs and their use in the fight against terrorism.

Thank you, again, for taking the time to share your views with me.  Please do not hesitate to contact me again in the future with other issues of concern to you.


James M. Inhofe
United States Senator

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