Yikes. Very little editing in this post, but yesterday it was shoe-shopping or blog? Shoe-shopping won out of course and today it's "I'm up at 5 anyway, and I've got to get out by 7:30." So apologies for the less than crystal-clear writing below.
A valued reader suggests I may have missed the big Patriot Act story Friday and sends me a link from the NYT's. I caught the story in the WSJ, and scanned it for hard information regarding the act itself and found none. If I'd been a better blogger I'd have checked the other papers. Let's look at what the Times
has to say.
| || An effort to bar the government from demanding records from libraries and booksellers in some terrorism investigations fell one vote short of passage in the House on Thursday after a late burst of lobbying prompted nine Republicans to switch their votes. |
The vote, a 210 to 210 deadlock, amounted to a referendum on the antiterrorism law known as the USA Patriot Act and reflected deep divisions in Congress over whether the law undercuts civil liberties. Under House rules, the tie vote meant the measure was defeated...
The library proposal, tacked onto a $39.8 billion spending bill, would have barred the federal government from demanding library records, reading lists, book customer lists and other material in terrorism and intelligence investigations. The antiterrorism law expanded the government's authority to secure warrants from a secret intelligence court in Washington to obtain records from libraries and other institutions, using what many legal experts regard as a lesser standard of proof than is needed in traditional criminal investigations.
Federal law enforcement officials say the power to gain access to such records has been used sparingly. Still, the provision granting the government that power has become the most widely attacked element of the law, galvanizing opposition in more than 330 communities that have expressed concern about government abuse. Critics say the law gives the government the ability to pry into people's personal reading habits.
(Italics added.) That's the rub too. Is it or isn't it a lesser standard than a normal criminal investigation? Going back to my March 9 posting (scroll down)
I cite Ramesh Ponnuru:
| || It's true that the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act (which Patriot modified) does not require a showing of probable cause of a crime. But it does require a showing of probable cause that the target is a foreign power, terrorist group, or agent of one. || |
That's not the same standard as in a criminal investigation, but on the other hand, to show probable cause of a crime, it would have had to have been already committed. Should we have (if we could have) stopped the 9/11 hijackers before they flew their jets into the WTC and the Pentagon under FISA? On the other hand, how many innocent people are having their booklists perused by Uncle Sam?
I also cite in that same post from WaPo
| || Section 215 does not specifically mention bookstores or libraries, but permits secret warrants for "books, records, papers, documents and other items" from businesses, hospitals or other organizations... |
Warrants obtained under Section 215 must be approved by the secret Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court, which oversees investigations of individuals or groups the United States believed to be terrorists or spies. Those served with such documents are barred from disclosing the fact.
This court has been around since the 1970's. Is it a secret court to keep the investigation from becoming public record, so that querulous Qaeda members will be kept in the dark about what the government knows about them? Seriously, this spy stuff is all new to me. If you have any thoughts or answers, please send.
So, valued reader, are my sources wrong? Tough to say. There was certainly a flurry of activity at the House last week, as reported in the NYT's:
| ||Frustrated Democrats shouted "Shame, shame!" and "Democracy!" as the voting continued, but Republicans defended their right as the majority party to keep the vote open to "educate members" about the dangers of scaling back government counterterrorism powers. || |
Even so, it seems to be a "yes-it-is!--no-it isn't!" type argument right now. Are we getting a complete picture of the Patriot Act? I doubt it. Another valued reader at the time of my March posting commented that legislation is hard to write and even harder to read. He suggested giving it time to see how it plays out. What worried me, is will the public be able to see how it plays out, given that it's all done in secrecy?
PS Send me your links to your arguments that say I'm reading all this wrong. I don't mind being wrong here!Posted JUL 11 2004, 7:19 AM CDT (link here)