Does The Patriot Act Trump The Constitution?

Two days ago, I testified before a subcommittee of the House of Representatives Judiciary Committee. The topic was the USA PATRIOT Act; and specifically, provisions of the law set to expire at the end of this month. The most problematic of these provisions allows the government to gain access to a person’s private records and other “things,” in the hands of a third party, if sought for an investigation involving terrorism or foreign intelligence. This would include, for example, a person’s medical records, financial records, school records, business records, travel records, etc.

Currently, under the PATRIOT Act, the government can access this private information or other items, without any showing whatsoever that there is a suspicion (much less, “probable cause”) that the person whose privacy the government seeks to violate, has committed any offense or is associated in any way with a suspected terrorist or even an associate of a known or suspected terrorist.

Among the other powers that will be sun-setted unless Congress re-authorizes them, is the ability currently enjoyed by the government to secure so-called “roving” wiretaps on phones without even having to provide either the name of the person to be electronically surveilled or the precise location of the phone(s) to be tapped. Such “John Doe” roving wiretaps could subject entirely innocent third parties to having their phone(s) surveilled.

My testimony was essentially to either: (1) permit the three sun-setted provisions to expire because they are not essential to the government’s ability to investigate, uncover and prosecute allegations of terrorist activity; or (2) at least limit them to bring them into accord with the Constitution. This would mean simply requiring the government to show minimal evidence that there is at least some suspected link between the person against whom the government is seeking to access private information, and suspected unlawful activity or association with a terrorist or terrorist organization (or a suspected such person or organization).

Predictably, the Republican members on the subcommittee present at the hearing indicated no willingness whatsoever to place any limitations at all on these expansive and, I believe, unconstitutional provisions of the PATRIOT Act, that permit the government to violate a citizen’s privacy and gain access to possibly their most private of records, by doing nothing more than telling a judge that the government needs the information because it is “relevant” to some investigation.

Many Members of Congress talk a good game of supporting civil liberties, our right to privacy, and the Constitution itself; but they are more than willing to allow those liberties to be trumped in the name of “fighting terrorism.” To them, there is a footnote to the Constitution and the Bill of Rights that says those limitations on government power do not apply if the government says it is “fighting terrorism.”

It is funny though – no copy of the Constitution I have been able to find includes such a footnote.

By Bob Barr – The Barr Code

43 comments Add your comment

Painful Truth

May 13th, 2011
6:40 am

I fear our government more than I do any terrorist.


May 13th, 2011
6:42 am

Gotta love the Repugs. They’re all for limited government except when they aren’t. The Patriot Act was one of Bush’s many abominations. Most average citizens don’t even realize the impact it has on their lives. For instance, any banking or investing they do must be monitored by the bank or brokerage house. If a person’s financial advisor, for instance, sees “suspicious” activity in the client’s account and they DON’T tell the government, the advisor or banker could face jail. This means that financial advisors have to ask where the client’s money comes from, what it’s used for, etc. Talk about Big Brother! Not only is this a perversion of our Constitutional rights, but it necessitated financial institutions spending millions of dollars to set up monitoring systems. It should not be anyone’s business how a person comes by their money. It certainly shouldn’t be the job of bankers to police the population. If the government thinks someone is doing something illegal, the onus is on the government to do the police work to get valid search warrants. I gag when I hear the right wingers spout about the Constitution. Not one of them has ever read it, and if they did, most are so stupid they wouldn’t understand it.


May 13th, 2011
7:10 am

Bob, if only you would have stated that the Patriot Act was an undue burden on business and corporate America (like verifying that their employees are here legally) you would have found that your fellow conservatives (of both parties) would have been falling all over themselves to repeal the whole thing ASAP.

Karl Born

May 13th, 2011
7:30 am

Do they think that the issue of the reasonability of the search throws the issue open to their discretion? If they do, I disagree with them, but I’m trying to figure out what they might be thinking, if anything.

Proletariat Prose

May 13th, 2011
7:42 am

Bob Barr is……RIGHT! The government isn’t going to let us enjoy our Constitutionally Guaranteed Rights against unreasonable search and seizures.

It’s like in 1776 when King George promised change and all we got were quartering troops. (Sorry).

Bob Barr is……..well, he did use, “Sun-Setted”, twice in the same blog. Then he actually wrote, “Suspected Such Person”. You decide how big of a hack that makes him.

Seriously, the history of all this illegal wiretapping started with J. Edgar Hoover against JFK’s piccadillos in the white house. I figure Hoover must have filmed it all and probably used the evidence to keep his job and then he probably watched the prez-porn privately and regularly.


another view

May 13th, 2011
8:10 am

Another demonstration that Republicans are most definitely not by any stretch of the imagination conservative, but simply interested in lining their pockets with favors from the rich at the expense of the “common man.”

Common Man

May 13th, 2011
8:41 am

Another demonstration that Republicans are most definitely not by any stretch of the imagination conservative, but simply interested in lining their pockets with favors from the rich at the expense of the “common man.”

Another View…Why don’t you cite a specific example to back up your overly broad statement. What favors are the Republicans lining their pockets by??? We would love to hear your insight.


May 13th, 2011
8:41 am

Bob, you left out why the Republicans have no willingness whatsover to stop access to all these private records. They will turn over all of this information to their corporate sponsors who in turn will use it to make additional profits.


May 13th, 2011
8:45 am

The right loves to wave and shout about the Constitution, unless it gets in their way.


May 13th, 2011
9:17 am

Don’t worry Carlosgvv…Barack will jump in and save the day becuase he has no ties to corporate america lining his pockets.


May 13th, 2011
9:35 am

I freely admit I don’t know enough about the PA to dismiss it 100%. My question is – can we as a democracy/republic discuss ways in which we need to fight terrorism in the 21st century without calling the other side nazis or terrorist sympathizers?

Has the Patriot Act helped in the fight against terrorism? If we repealed it would we as a nation realy suffer?


May 13th, 2011
9:38 am

As a society, America is willingly giving up its rights through inaction. Excepting a few brave individuals, you are not fighting for what’s yours. As such, you deserve to lose those rights.

You’ve collectively failed to learn the lessons of Salem and McCarthyism, abandoning all reason and responsibility in your irrational fear of terrorists, because fear of witches and communists seems to antiquated and primitive.

Shame on the lot of you…


May 13th, 2011
9:58 am


Actually, you are partly right. Barack’s ties are to the Unions and they are mainly the ones lining his pockets. And, of course, he won’t jump in and save the day because that might make someone mad.

sane jane

May 13th, 2011
10:22 am

Another Bob Barr piece trashing the USA PATRIOT Act, another failure to disclose that Barr was serving in the House and voted YEA for this bill. HE HELPED IT PASS. And now “talks a good game” about how awful it has become, the missteps made since passage. (yet fails to include the mea culpa)

Shame on you AJC editors.


May 13th, 2011
10:29 am

Yes it does. The terrorist have won the “War on Terror” because they with the help of the US Federal Government have destroyed our Rights and disreguarded the U. S Constitution. We the People now live in fear of our own Government and the trugs that control us. TSA, IRS, Homeland So-Called Security, FBI, ATF,CIA, and etc…All is Lost. America is done. We have given our great Nation America to the wolves. Shame on most of us for letting the corrupt politicans do this to us all. LAME ASS Voters.


May 13th, 2011
10:54 am


Just slit your wrists already…we’ll all feel better.


May 13th, 2011
11:01 am

Always feel like a shower is needed when I agree with Mr. Barr. A columnist I read reguarly once stated something to the effect when we give up our rights and deny others their rights in the name of security the terrorists win. He was probably paraphrasing Mr. Frankin who said people who would trade freedom for security deserve neither.

Find it humorous that the party of small government wants to extend this law and deny women the right to control their reproductive rights.


May 13th, 2011
11:26 am

Grashopper, I was referring to the politics of our Nation and the way Government has over stepped their authority.


May 13th, 2011
11:40 am

Got to hand it to the dimacrats, they hate GWB but they sure keep supporting all the policies he put in place. They even kept all the intelligence people that they profess to hate. The dimacrats were for letting the “Bush tax cuts” expire before they were for keeping them. The dimacrats were for closing Gitmo, before they decided to keep it open. Funny how the dimacrats don’t seem to know what the Constitution is, let alone read it, didn’t they take a pledge to uphold the Constitution? Wasn’t it a dimacrat that complained about the Constitution being read to congress, yes it is too bad that the dimcrats don’t know how to read, that is some on else’s job. So the dimcrats have an excuse for not understanding the Constitution, the don’t know how to read.

Capitol Avenue Cal

May 13th, 2011
11:50 am

DeborahinAthens, you really are lost, aren’t you? Use your brain for once, and be intelligently critical and not merely a singer of the party line.


May 13th, 2011
11:53 am

I think not only should they list probable cause in the request for a wiretap but also the specific reason whether it is terrorism or illegal activity. I suspect they will call a lot of them terrorism and it ends up being a fishing expedition to find criminal behavior.


May 13th, 2011
1:04 pm

To put it bluntly…HeXX no, the Patriot Act does not trump the Constitution. Fear a government that fears an armed population.

The Act may have been installed on Bush’s watch, but it was expanded under the current administration. BOTH parties are guilty of allowing disintegration of the rights of US citizens and should be held accountable for doing so at the next election.

Proletariat Prose

May 13th, 2011
1:19 pm

Remember, girls and boys, fight tyranny with ballots, not bullets. (or mullets).


May 13th, 2011
1:22 pm

Did it trump the constitution when YOU voted for it Bob? Just wondering.

NOTHING TRUMPS THE CONSTITUTION. Someday americans of both parties will understand that. Until then, business as usual.


May 13th, 2011
1:38 pm

When the ballots are fraudulent, and the voting machines hacked, ballot-based fighting is BS. No voting machine can hack my rifle :)


May 13th, 2011
1:55 pm

Don’t forget that there is also no Constitution when it comes to the SEX OFFENDER Witch Hunt. That’s okay, cause we hate those people.


May 13th, 2011
2:05 pm

“Does The Patriot Act Trump The Constitution?”

Funny how Barr is so enamored with the Patriot Act yet he says nothing about Obozocare.


May 13th, 2011
2:11 pm

DeborahinAthens = dumb a$$. Guess she doesn’t realize that Obozo has carried on many of Bush’s policies.


May 13th, 2011
2:14 pm

This discussion should include mention of the Democrats’ economic stimulus plan, passed 2/09, in which the govt. established computerizing medical records that will follow each & every American from birth to death, with all of our medical histories electronically stored, shared & searchable. The relationship between a patient & his or her doctor has been considered one of the most private relationships in our country, until 2 yrs. ago.


May 13th, 2011
2:34 pm

The execution of OBL brought back the discussion of enhanced interrogation techniques. One of the first executive orders Obama signed ended black sites. What is worse: enhanced interrogation techniques under the supervision of the CIA OR taking a suspected terrorist to another country that specializes in torture? Unbeknownst to many is the fact that in 8/09 Obama authorized rendition, the detention & interrogation of suspects in third countries, but “with more oversight.”

Proletariat Prose

May 13th, 2011
4:14 pm

Yeah, 2nd ammendment, but who cut your hair?



May 13th, 2011
4:51 pm

The un-Constitutional (so-called) “Patriot” & Military Commissions Acts BOTH needs to be overturned as they infringe upon our liberties. The phony (neo)”conservatives” leveraged 9/11 to further expand the (ever growing) police state. The Bill of Rights needs to be upheld above all else.

Norman Manasa

May 13th, 2011
6:11 pm

Teach your children their liberties as Americans.

Download FREE copies of the two-page “Refrigerator Door Bill of Rights” at:

Have your kids sign it, add their school picture (kids love that part!), and post it on your refrigerator door (hence, the name).

Or send it to anyone you wish, anywhere. (In the last year, the “Refrigerator Door Bill of Rights” has been downloaded in all 50 states and in 58 countries around the world.)

Non-partisan. Non-political. The Bill of Rights. The liberties of the people. And free.

Norman Manasa
The National Education Project, Inc.
Washington, D.C.

the watch dog

May 13th, 2011
10:23 pm

This a great country, I would not want to live any place else. I find no faults, it just keeps getting better and better. It is a progressive democracy which becomes more democatic day by day. It really is a wonderful place.

Proletariat Prose

May 14th, 2011
9:51 am

Litchenstein is better. They have these chicks there that have absolutely no respect for the laws of nature…….

No Freedom of the Press for Fox5 News?

May 14th, 2011
11:31 am

Does Governor Nathan Deal Also Trump The Constitution ?

[...] Atlanta Journal VN:F [1.9.8_1114]please wait…Rating: 0.0/10 (0 votes cast)VN:F [1.9.8_1114]Rating: 0 (from 0 votes)Share this:ShareEmailPrintFacebookStumbleUponDigg This entry was posted in Bill of Rights, Constitution, Founding Documents, Government Watch, News, Opinion, Politics and tagged Bob Barr, News, Oped, Opinion, PATRIOT ACT. Bookmark the permalink. ← Quote this! [...]


May 15th, 2011
1:21 pm

We got obl and can stop overreacting to a small gang and be Americans again.

Man up con cowards.

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May 16th, 2011
5:45 pm

The BEST way to deal with the “Patriot Act” is to USE it thoroughly on investigating 9/11, PNAC, Bush Administration members, CFR members, 9/11 commission members, “War on Terror Contractors/Profiteers”, Wall Streeters/ Bankers and Congressmen! Let us see how secure THEY feel about the Patriot Act! While being investigated, they can be detained in “Gitmo” and waterboarded (non-torturous, of course!). We’ll call it paid administrative leave.

Sally G

May 17th, 2011
12:58 pm

JP, The PATRIOT Act was created in emergency response to 9/11, and was designed with sunset provisions to ensure that after the immediate investigations were accomplished and things had quieted down, their extraordinary provisions would expire unless specifically reauthorized because of demonstrated need. Before we had the PATRIOT Act, we had FISA (Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act), which gave the government powers of wiretapping, etc, with review by a FISA court. This was put in after Watergate to ensure that civil liberties were protected while valid foreign surveillance could go forward. Telecom companies were asked to perform wiretaps without the warrants, and in July 2008 were given retrospective immunity from prosecution. I am not an expert on all the FISA/PATRIOT complexities; I know that it makes no sense for a bank at which I have been doing business for at least 5 years to see my driver’s license when I try to open a CD with “new” money. They already know me; why is it anyone’s business if I have money to deposit from somewhere else? Would I be opening an account in a local bank with illegal money? We are living in more of a surveillance state than would have seemed possible in the 1960s, and I find it distressing that so few seem to question it. I suggest www. getfisaright .wordpress. com for more information.

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