Patriot Act reform may be nearer

Like the mythical phoenix that rises from the ashes, the USA PATRIOT Act just won’t go away.  After signing the massive piece of legislation into law on October 26, 2001, President George W. Bush and his attorneys general John Ashcroft and Alberto Gonzalez (with considerable help from former Vice President Dick Cheney), tried repeatedly to expand its powers.  They did this both by seeking to amend the Act directly, as well as through other legislative vehicles such as the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act (FISA).  They were occasionally successful and sometimes not; but they never stopped trying.

During the 2008 campaign, then-candidate Barack Obama made statements appearing to support moves to scale back these laws.  However, when the time came for a vote in the summer of 2008, he not only voted against scaling back FISA, but in favor of expanding its reach considerably.  In fact, he voted to grant immunity retroactively to telecommunications carriers that had facilitated the Bush Administration’s warrantless interception of millions of Americans’ international phone calls and e-mail transmissions in violation of FISA.

Soon, if several members of Congress of the president’s own party have their way, Obama will have the opportunity to act consistent with his statements as a senator, and help to scale back at least some of the provisions of the Patriot Act and FISA.  How the president and his teams at the Departments of Justice, Defense and State, and his appointees in the various intelligence agencies respond to these moves on the Hill, will establish definitively whether the “change” Obama promised as a candidate was mere rhetoric or actual commitment.

No less a figure than John Conyers, the veteran Democratic Congressman from Michigan who chairs the Judiciary Committee, is leading the effort in the House to reform the Patriot Act and FISA.  The effort across the Capitol Dome is being championed largely by Sen. Russ Feingold of Wisconsin and Assistant Majority Leader Richard Durbin of Illinois. 

While Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman Pat Leahy of Vermont appears to share a desire to scale back both these laws, he has shown himself unable or unwilling to withstand pressure from federal law enforcement and intelligence agencies, and has repeatedly backed away from moving such amendments forward.  As recently as October 8th, for example, a proposal by Durbin limiting the extent to which government agents are able to gain access to private records on individual citizens without any showing that the individuals are suspected of engaging in any criminal or terrorist acts, failed even to get out of Leahy’s committee.

House and Senate reformers are seeking to take advantage of a renewed focus on the Patriot Act, resulting from the fact that several provisions of the law expire at the end of this year unless they are reauthorized by Congress.  Although the Obama Administration has stated clearly that it favors renewal of those expiring provisions, it has also indicated a willingness to consider certain “modifications” to better protect “the privacy of law abiding Americans.” 

While the mollifying words of President Obama, delivered to the Hill through his Justice Department last month, may cheer some Patriot Act skeptics, most members have learned to take such rhetoric with a grain of salt.  After all, the Bush Administration repeatedly offered rhetoric promising to protect Americans’ “privacy,” even as it ran roughshod over it.

Still, the limited and reasonable scope of the Conyers-Durbin-Feingold efforts (none of their legislative proposals would come close to gutting either FISA or the Patriot Act, but would slightly but importantly limit the reach of a few of the most constitutionally-troublesome provision) should put them in a strong position later this year to achieve at least a partial victory.  And in this day and time, when the government’s power to invade citizens’ privacy is expanding exponentially, even a small victory is a major one.

14 comments Add your comment

Sam

November 2nd, 2009
8:23 am

Welcome to the Stazi States of America

Mutts R Stupid

November 2nd, 2009
8:30 am

If the Feds would use the Patriot Act to investigate the massive conspiracy against America that is known as the “Pro Israel Lobby,” then I could support it. Unfortunately, pro-Israel operatives have infiltrated every level of the Federal government, where they use the Patriot Act to protect their conspiracy, not to investigate it. Do you know how much money we have given to Israel and Egypt under the Camp David accord since 1979? So far we have given away 180 billion American tax dollars to these two dead beats. For what? Oh, they made peace, so now we are supposed to pay them 6 billion dollars per year for the rest of eternity? That is just the tip of the iceberg in wealth transfer from America to Israel by the conspiracy called the “Pro Israel Lobby.”

45 DAYS

November 2nd, 2009
8:51 am

October 26, 2001 ? sounds like our legislators spent a whopping 45 days scouring the text of the USA Patriot Act in order to make sure they were representing us properly without infringing on our Constitutional guarantees – yeah, right – GIVE ME A BREAK – this thing was rammed down the American peoples’ throats’ just like they’re trying to do with this H1N1 epidemic/vaccine stuff – the Patriot Act and the Dept. of Homeland Security are an abomination and should be completely gotten rid of as they are both gross usurpations of our rights as Americans – part of the reason why I voted for Obama is because he said he would review the Patriot Act and Bush’s executive orders and get rid of anything that is unconstitutional – he’s a Harvard trained Constitutional Law professor – let’s see what happens even though we all know what’s gonna happen – NOTHING !!

Redneck Convert (R--and proud of it)

November 2nd, 2009
9:00 am

Well, I kind of hope they keep the Patriot Act. I’m kind of used to having my e-mails spied on and my phone calls listened in on. It keeps me on my toes. And I make sure I talk and write real clear so the guvmint person can understand what I’m saying. I’m always aware there’s a third person involved in the talking now. It took the U.S. of A. a long time to get like the old KGB was in Russia, but we finally caught up. Seeing as how we finally made it, there’s no reason to change now.

Have a good day everybody.

clyde

November 2nd, 2009
9:12 am

Good morning Bob,

I don’t know where you would get the idea that Obama would scale back The Patriot Act.Increase it,I would believe.Unfortunately that baby is here to stay.It’s additions to it we have to worry about now.The NTC starts on blogs come December 1st. That will be another worry for Americans.

[...] Some opinion: Bob Barr says Patriot Act reform may be nearer. [...]

Chris Broe

November 2nd, 2009
10:01 am

Patriot Act? How should a patriot act? The only bad patriot act is this constant rebel-rousing coming from nearly every single blog host on the right. Rebellion is in the airwaves. Nation building overseas is bad enough. But nation rebuilding here is treason. And treason is every patriot’s business who’s around.

All of our ills are Cheney’s fault, and everyone knows it. Without Cheney’s nation building in 2002, there would be no Iraq War, and Al Queda would have been destroyed. OBL captured. Our treasury able to leverage freedom here at home.

The efforts of Fox and the AJC are like pouring bad treason after worse treason.

If the blog hosts on this site want a war of words, then they shall have it, but the decision is up to them. They have no solemn oath bound in heaven to destroy this government, but Patriotic Americans have a civic oath, sung at every sporting event, (A-rod!) to defend and protect our president from attacks like Glenn Beck’s Born Again Birther Burper movement.

Burper? (you ask). Yes, Burper, because he’s trying to refound america, with proposals that come across like so many refried beans. If a citizen swallows any refounding of our government, then surely Lady Liberty will repeat her lunch. (no, Lady Liberty’s first name is not Shirley)

BURP! Glenn Beck has put such a bad taste in the world’s mouth for the US that Afghan voters have stuck their purple fingers down their throat.

Glenn Beck clowns for ratings so much that he does everything but moon the camera, (him being such a cheeky monkey, and all).

Jklol.

jconservative

November 2nd, 2009
11:31 am

I say cancel the Patriot Act. It was unpatriotic when it passed and nothing has changed.

MrLiberty

November 2nd, 2009
12:49 pm

Wow, all that text and not one mention of the fact that you voted for the Act without reading it, just like most of the other traitors in Congress at the time.

Those of us that fight against ANY growth of government (and fight for the massive decrease in it as well) are always warning your types that you cannot give an inch because they will always take a mile.

The right time to stop the patriot act was before it was ever passed. Ron Paul and other true patriots knew that then, and still know it now.

Sam

November 2nd, 2009
4:37 pm

Shhhhh! Someone is watching you!

Sam

November 2nd, 2009
4:38 pm

Enter your comments here

Number1ninja

November 2nd, 2009
10:57 pm

The funniest thing about Obama is that the people who blindly supported Bush are now up in arms about basically the same thing they were supporting, while the democrats who attacked everything Bush did are now blindly defending the same thing. May as well be rooting for sports teams.

Common Sense

November 3rd, 2009
2:25 pm

“Too late for the ballot box; too early for the revolution.”

Hard Right Hook

November 5th, 2009
9:42 am

Chris Broe

November 2nd, 2009
10:01 am

Wow. Were you a speech writer for Jimmy Carter?