|www.amperspective.com Online Magazine||Executive Editor: Abdus Sattar Ghazali|
|AMP comment | Muslims in politics | Special reports | Press center | Muslim charities | Civil liberties|
|AMP Report – May 28, 2011
Congress approves extension of Patriot Act surveillance provisions
On May 26, 2011, Congress, rejecting demands for additional safeguards of civil liberties, approved a four-year extension to key provisions of the Bush era Patriot Act that will allow federal investigators to continue to use aggressive surveillance tactics in connection with suspected terrorists. This was another horrendous example of bipartisan spirit assured by the most important Democratic power brokers (the Obama White House and Senators Feinstein and Leahy), plus the congressional Senate and House Republican leadership. That’s the same sort of bipartisan coalition that has repeated for the last decade as constitutional civil liberties in the U.S. steadily have been eroded in the name of fighting “terrorism.”
The House voted 250-153 to renew three parts of the counter-terrorism surveillance law. Thirty-one House Republicans joined most Democrats in opposing the extension, while 54 Democrats supported it. Hours earlier, the bill cleared the Senate on a 72-23 vote, with 19 Democrats and four Republicans voting no, mostly over concerns the Patriot Act violates personal privacy and civil liberties. The provisions were due to expire at midnight Thursday without an extension. President Obama was attending a summit in France, but the bill was signed by autopen with his authorization moments before the deadline.
One of the sections of the Patriot Act extended by Congress (Section 206) is the “roving wiretap” power, which allows federal authorities to listen in on conversations of foreign suspects even when they change phones or locations. Without such roving wiretap authority, investigators would be forced to seek a new court order each time they need to change the location, phone or computer that needs to be monitored. Approval for the surveillance must be obtained from a federal court. Law-enforcement agencies have been able to use wiretaps for criminal investigations since 1986.
Another provision, Section 215 of the Patriot Act, gives the government access to the personal records of terrorism suspects; it’s often called the “library provision” because of the wide range of personal material that can be investigated. This section allows the FBI to apply to the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act (FISA) court to issue orders granting the government access to any tangible items in foreign intelligence, international terrorism and clandestine intelligence cases.
The third provision extended for four year is Section 6001 of the Intelligence Reform and Terrorist Prevention Act. In 2004, Congress amended the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act to authorize intelligence gathering on individuals not affiliated with any known terrorist organization, with a sunset date to correspond with the Patriot Act provisions. The provision, which is thus technically not part of the Patriot Act, is explicit in saying it does not to apply to US citizens. Law enforcement officials refer to it as the “lone wolf” provision.
“Congress has once again chosen to rubberstamp the Patriot Act and its overreaching provisions. Since its passage nearly a decade ago, the Patriot Act has been used improperly again and again by law enforcement to invade Americans’ privacy and violate their constitutional rights,” said Laura Murphy, of the ACLU, in a statement.
Two Senate Democrats on the Intelligence Committee, Mark Udall and Ron Wyden, were quoted by the New York Times today as saying that the Obama administration has a “secret” and far-reaching interpretation of the Patriot Act that goes well beyond standard readings of its limits, especially the ability to seize business and other records.
Sen. Dick Durbin, D-Ill., said he voted for the act in 2001 “while ground zero was still burning.” But “I soon realized it gave too much power to government without enough judicial and congressional oversight.” Sen. Mark Udall, D-Colo., said the provision on collecting business records can expose law-abiding citizens to government scrutiny. “If we cannot limit investigations to terrorism or other nefarious activities, where do they end?” he asked.