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Saturday, December 10, 2005

USA "Patriot" Act Reauthorization Update

The conference committee on H.R. 3199, the reauthorization of the so-called USA "Patriot" Act, has reached a compromise. It looks pretty much like the deal that was reached in November, but some of the sunsets have been shortened from seven years to four years.

According to Caroline Fredrickson of the ACLU,


This sham compromise agreement fails to address the primary substantive concern raised by millions of Americans, as well as civil liberties, privacy and business organizations and lawmakers from both sides of the aisle and in both chambers. It is unfortunate that some would cave in to political pressure from the White House and reject common sense protections that were included in the unanimously supported Senate bill.

If adopted, this reauthorization bill would continue to permit the FBI to access a huge array of extremely private records of innocent Americans without having to demonstrate a connection between the records sought and a suspected foreign terrorist or terrorist organization. A shorter sunset on a few controversial powers will not protect our privacy and does not redress in any way the FBI's ability to use National Security Letters to pry into people's private affairs, with no judicial oversight. We call on all fair-minded lawmakers to reject this hijacked legislation and stand firm against pressure from the administration to compromise on protections in our Bill of Rights.

(entire ACLU press release here)

According to Timothy H. Edgar of the ACLU,


The bill would leave the current, overbroad definition of domestic terrorism in place. That definition, laid out at 18 U.S.C. Section 2331, covers any unlawful activity that is dangerous to human life. Such a broad definition, which applies even to minor state crimes such as trespass or vandalism, could cover the civil disobedience activities of some protest organizations.

(entire memorandum here)

Just think of all of the crimes that this section defines as "domestic terrorism." Did you ever drink underage? Jaywalk? Get a speeding ticket? Congratulations, you're a domestic terrorist!

The San Francisco Chronicle, Fort Worth Star-Telegram, and others report that the current version of H.R. 3199 still contains language that would invade the privacy of cold and allergy sufferers in a (futile) attempt to curb methamphetamine use.

There's still hope to stop H.R. 3199. Six real patriots in the Senate have announced plans to filibuster the bill. Those six senators are Larry Craig (R-Id.), Dick Durbin (D-Il.), Russ Feingold (D- Wi.), Lisa Murkowski (R-Ak.), Ken Salazar (D-Co.), and John Sununu (R-N.H.). Please call your U.S. senators and tell them to uphold the filibuster of H.R. 3199. The ACLU provides talking points and makes it easy to find your senators' contact information here. The Bill of Rights Defense Committee, Downsize D.C., Gun Owners of America, and Patriots to Restore Checks and Balances also make it easy to take action on this legislation.

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