Fat Steve's Blatherings

Friday, December 16, 2005

The USA PATRIOT Act Renewal: Feingold Grandstands


        Sen. Russ Feingold carefully misses the point as the renewal of the USA PATRIOT Act is debated.

At Length:

        The USA PATRIOT Act is up for renewal, and Sen. Russ Feingold is demonstrating his instincts as someone soft on terrorism.

        Go here and you can read a statement about why the Patriot Act as it presently stands should be gutted, and replaced with something far weaker, but carrying the same name (not that Feingold is honest enough to put it that way).

        For example, Feingold is very upset about Section 215, which allows a special court to issue secret search warrants in terrorism and espionage investigations, coupled with gag orders to those who are searched.  Feingold thinks the present '"sought for" a terrorism investigation' standard should be replaced with standard in which records can be sought if one of three criteria is met:
        (1) that the records pertain to a terrorist or spy; (2) that the records pertain to an individual in contact with or known to a suspected terrorist or spy; or (3) that the records are relevant to the activities of a suspected terrorist or spy.

        The Senate bill also would give recipients of a 215 order an explicit, meaningful right to challenge business record orders and the accompanying gag orders in court.

        Let's compare the existing standard and the proposed replacement standard in a hypothetical case.  The government suspects that an attempt will be made to manufacture chemical weapons, and introduce them into high-rise ventilating systems.  In furtherance of this goal, people are suspected of having taken classes in chemistry, and in "Heating, Air Conditioning, and Ventilation."  The government wishes to get records of all students in these areas, to look for patterns, possible connections among students, and clues as to where the strike will take place (if the plot is indeed real, which isn't known yet).

        Present standard: slam dunk, warrants issued.

        Feingold standard: apparently, you can't do it, because you can't show the connections between students and any known terrorists.

        Am I being fanciful?  Well, change the proposed terrorist act to 'slamming airplanes into high-rises,' and the subjects to 'piloting.  The FBI had a tip on one of the hijackers here in Minneapolis, but it wasn't pursued.  They might have violated the rights of innocent people, probing around into their backgrounds.  Instead, Mohammed Atta and friends violated the rights of THREE THOUSAND INNOCENTS — but that's ok, they weren't working for the government.

        The proposed reauthorization tightens things a little, by requiring the government to show that the information sought is "relevant" to a terrorism or espionage investigation.  This isn't good enough for Feingold:
        The Senate bill permits the government to obtain business records only if it can satisfy one or more prongs of the three prong test. This is a broad standard with a lot of flexibility. But it retains the core protection that the government cannot go after someone who has no connection whatsoever to a terrorist or spy or their activities.

        The conference replaces the three prong test with a simple relevance standard.

        Are we really suposed to believe that the Senator never heard of "suspicion"?  In the world of terrorism and espionage, getting records may be necessary before the question of who is connected to whom can be established.

        There are probably modifications to the USA PATRIOT Act worth making, but Feingold's position is, objectively: 'The U.S. Government is more dangerous than terrorists.'  I disagree, and so did those who reelected the President, and a Republican-controlled Congress.

        But Feingold did co-sponsor a bill that became law that restricts citizens from spending money in political campaigns.  The possibility that people will influence elections with words is very dangerous, and let's not worry about the 1st Amendment, eh?

        Sen. Feingold, drop dead.  U.S. Senate, reauthorize the USA PATRIOT Act — but please, rename it.

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