Friday, February 26, 2010

Why have a Patriot Act?

Hunting the Patriot Act

By Michael LeMieux
February 24, 2010
Whether you are hunting wild animals, terrorist enemies, or savage criminals, to the trained eye, there are signs that tell you what ‘may’ be going on. When you see fresh tracks in the snow you may not see the deer but you can tell a lot about the animal by the depth of the depressions, the width and spread of the track. You can tell by the condition of the track how long it has been that the animal was there and which direction he is traveling. You have not seen the animal but the signs are there.
Again, to the trained eye, the same holds true for tracking terrorists or criminals, they all leave tracks and if we read those tracks correctly they can tell us what they were doing and where they are going.
And as with the fore-mentioned animals we can also tell by the actions of politicians what their true intent may be.
In this case we are looking at the Patriot Act, which is coming up for renewal. We can tell from how this legislation has been operated, changed, and who is impacted as to what it is really going on.
Regardless on ones position on the Patriot Act two things most of us can agree upon is that laws passed should be used for the purpose they were intended and that they should be in line with the Constitution.
On 31 December 2009 the Patriot Act is set to expire unless Congress passes legislation to extend its termination date. But before I discuss whether renewing the Patriot is good or bad for America let us look at a few points of the Act that I feel cause what should be concern for every citizen.
Sneak & Peek: The Patriot Act authorized what is called Delayed-Notice Search Warrants; this is where the investigators get a warrant that allows them to enter your home or place of business, while you are not there, go through your belongings and take what it wants and not tell you about it for up to a year or more with extensions.
Amendment IV of the Constitution states that we have the right to be secure in our persons, houses, papers, and effects, against unreasonable searches and seizures and that that right “shall not be violated, and no Warrants shall issue, but upon probable cause.”
Here, although the government gets a warrant, that warrant may not be served upon the object of the warrant for extended periods of time and thereby robbing him of his rights.
The Department of Justice 2005 website stated the Patriot Act was necessary to “conduct investigations without tipping off terrorists.” In a July 2009 report from Director James Duff, of the Administrative Office of the United States Courts, it was reported that in 2008 alone there were 763 “sneak and peek” warrants issued and of those 763 warrants only 3 were for terrorism while 474 were for drug crimes, 53 for fraud, 25 for escapees from prison, 12 for sex offenders, 14 for murder, and even Food and Drug received more warrants than terrorism with 5.
We were told we had to pass this act quickly to protect the nation from further “terrorist” attacks. It appears to me that the focus and intent of this portion of the act is not focused at terrorists but inward toward our own citizens having nothing to do with terrorism. But hey, we wouldn’t want a crisis to go to waste now would we?
In 2005 Congress added a new power to the Patriot Act call National Security Letters (NSL): The government has used NSL’s even before the 2005 Patriot Act Reauthorization that, according to a Congressional Research paper dated September 8, 2009, “expanded the circumstances under which an NSL could be used” and that the FBI had “used NSLs in violation of applicable NSL statutes, Attorney General Guidelines, and internal FBI policies,”
According to this very same report the standard/purpose for these letters were predominately for “int’l terrorism or clandestine intelligence.” And since we are also aware of the prohibition of the government collecting intelligence against its own citizens we must also assume that unless there was a nexus to terrorism or foreign sources in these investigations there should not be any NSL’s against our own citizens, Right?
NSL’s are used to obtain information about anyone from establishment where that person is suspected of having an account. It could be from banks, tax information, retail purchases, phone or email records, etc. all without providing any evidence of wrongdoing or intent to commit a crime only that you are suspected, a much lesser standard.
In 2008 alone over 24,744 letters were used on thousands of Americans. All the data collected from these investigations are maintained indefinitely on large government mainframes where they will be kept indefinitely even if no evidence of wrongdoing was found. There are currently over 1.5 billion records on file with the theory that it can be searched for pattern analysis of potential wrongdoing in the future. (This is called Data Mining)
And the predominant target/focus of the NSL’s issued during 2008? You guessed it—American citizens. Many of those investigated did not do anything wrong but fit a profile based on data mining or other criteria collected by the vast and ever growing mountain of data. Things as simple as the books someone may wish to read, or purchases that are in some way odd (to the investigator) that may relate again to some profile that has been created. And the list keeps growing of Americans viewed by our government as suspect.
Electronic Surveillance: Another aspect of the Patriot Act was an expansion of the power for the federal government to intercept communications (in whatever form) The National Security Agency (NSA) is tasked with electronic surveillance and is supposed to only intercept calls when one or both parts of the communication is foreign. But, according to a NY Times article, intelligence officials themselves have stated there has been a “significant and systemic” over-collection problem of purely domestic communications. When we look at who the government has identified as potential terrorists – especially by the DHS, - Where else are they going to look.
Arrests: It was stated in a Washington Post article that the Bush administrated claimed they arrested more than 400 people in terrorism investigations and convicted more than half of those.
The truth is, as we have seen above, most of the investigations were not terrorist related and in fact from 11/01 to 11/04 only 39 individuals were convicted of crimes related to terrorism with an average sentence of only 11 months. If you know your sentencing levels then the majority of these were not even felony infractions but were most likely misdemeanors. According to a Syracuse University study that with all the governments effort in stepping up terrorism related convictions the number of terrorism prisoners with sentences of 5 years or more has not risen at all above the pre-9/11 levels and the convictions were more commonly for passport violations, fraud, making false statements and conspiracy with average sentences of only 4 months.
Constitutionality: Since the Patriot Act has been enacted the Courts has identified as least two areas where the Patriot Act was proven to be unconstitutional. In the case of Doe V Ashcroft the courts struck down a National Security Letter noting that the failure to provide any explicit right for a recipient to challenge such a broad NSL search order violated the Fourth Amendment.
In Humanitarian Law Project V Ashcroft the Court identified specific phrases in Title 18 Section 2339A, which was amended by the Patriot Act, violated both the First and Fifth Amendment rights of the accused.
Most all can agree that in the age of near instant global communication and unlimited wealth of knowledge and mobility it is imperative that we know or should attempt to ascertain what our enemies are attempting to do. We should be diligent in tracking down those who would perpetrate evil against the innocent of our society. This is what I think the majority of us had in mind, though weary of the manner in which this bill was passed, to assist in bringing the level of knowledge of their actions to those whose job it is to protect this nation.
However, when those who are placed in positions of trust use that position to take the tools devised to protect Americans from foreign enemies and turn them inward toward the very citizens they are supposed to protect there is only one outcome—tyranny.
At the beginning of this article I put forth that the signs an animal leaves behind can show the observer exactly what the animal is doing, its size, direction, and the path it takes. What is left behind in the actions of this government is very clear to see. We hear his voice telling us that we have crises and must trust him to pursue the enemy. Then we see the tracks he has left showing that if his words are true then the fault lies with us in thinking the enemy was from outside our lands. When we examine the depth and breadth of the tracks, the direction it is taking we see more and more that the problem is not with what the government told us they needed these powers for but our understanding on whom they would be used and the power THEY gain by using it.
I was taught two very important lessons by my Father as I was growing up. The first is “Tell me WHO your friends are and I will tell you WHAT you are” and second, one I think we have all heard, “Actions speak louder than words.” When I look at the actions the government has taken against its own people using the tools given to them to fight a foreign enemy I think of the second phrase. When I look at the political positions of those who is fill the halls Washington DC I think of the first and pray to God that we can overcome the diversities that we are sure to have placed upon us by the animals we are currently observing.