Officials Rise Up to Defy The Patriot Act

Apr 22 2003 Kelly Norton
Local Officials Rise Up to Defy The Patriot Act
If you are not yet familiar with The Patriot Act, I would suggest that you do a little background reading and consider its repercussions (1,2,3,4). If its provisions are not alarming, I would then suggest that you do some more reading: Simply pick from any world history text book and flip to any chapter. If you still aren’t alarmed, you have just qualified for a presidential cabinet position.
What is most disturbing about this bill, is the ludicrous assumptions about the (one would hope unique) characteristics of those who wish to harm citizens of the United States that would logically make the damn thing ineffective anyway. Michael Woods, the FBI’s chief lawyer in the national security law unit, defended the new authority to track Internet access in libraries by citing the unproven hypothesis that terrorists know how to use anonymous e-mail accounts and went on to proclaim that “It’s part of their trade-craft”. Of course, it is little surprise that no one has any interest in confirming that terrorists use email to communicate, since a 2001 Department of Commerce study [A Nation Online: How Americans Are Expanding Their Use of the Internet] showed that over 46% of Americans use email. I would also propose that they breathe and quite possibly get dressed in the morning; perhaps the executive branch should also be granted the authority to monitor air consumption and clothing trends. I skew this, but the point is that there was no evidence to show (and the conclusion reached does not reasonably follow) that online privacy rights stood in the way of terrorist-related investigations. And remember, the crux of the assault on liberty is not that this information was previously inaccessible to the government; it is that this information is now made available to the executive branch (read federal law enforcement) without the consideration of the judicial branch. And for those who currently feel compelled to spout off the usual crap about “having nothing to hide”, I suggest you do some additional reading: Jeremy Bentham The Panopticon and Michel Foucault Discipline and Punish: The Birth of the Prison. In short, the fear of being watched even while you are “doing nothing wrong” is pretty much a polar opposite to freedom. Fear in the Panopticon is not of being found guilty of a crime you knowingly committed, but of having your actions surreptitiously interpreted; it is a tool to psychologically encourage extreme obedience (and is, of course, closely related to the effects of religious fear).
In addition to this bill, which was railroaded through congress during the post September 11th panic, there is a draft of the proposed sequel circulating the Internet: Domestic Security Enhancement Act of 2003. In keeping up current trends, this bill makes further assaults on civil liberties, including the power of the executive branch to “expatriate” a citizen if he/she “becomes a member of, or provides material support to, a group that the United States has designated as a ‘terrorist organization,’ if that group is engaged in hostilities against the United States.” That sounds innocent enough, until you remember that 1) the United States has often given broad meaning to the term “terrorist organization” which has at times included environmental organizations and 2) the term “terrorist activity” that is used to define those organizations only requires that organization “to gather information on potential targets for terrorist activity” to receive the special stigma. And, yes, there is a very vague circular reference in there that would imply that it is illegal to gather information about gathering information to commit other terrorist activities. To be fair on point 1, there is an official list of terrorist organizations maintained and approved by the Secretary of State that currently includes 36 foreign organizations. We do, however, place a great deal of trust into the administrator of that list and I’m not terribly comfortable with that having now read the criteria for inclusion. [See: Foreign Terrorist Organizations]
Arg, I do hate politics.