Sunday, July 31, 2005


On Friday, 29 July 2005, the US Senate rushed...again...a late night vote on the renewal of the (un)Patriot Act. This time it recieved unanimous aproval. Not even Sen. Russ Feingold, Dem. Wis., voted against the passage of this Act. I believe there was a good reason why he didn't.

Sen. Pat Roberts, Rep. Kas., who leads the Intelligence Committee, had been pushing for changes that would have expanded the (un)Patriot Act to allow the FBI to demand records in terror investigations through administrative subpoenas, without a judge's order, and to have sole discretion in deciding whether to monitor the mail of terror suspects. But Republican leaders in the Senate had agreed to include additional civil rights safeguards and to forestall any expansion of the government's counterterrorism powers that would give the FBI the ability to do this. Roberts did received assurances though in discussions this week that Republican leaders would back him if and when he decided to bring those issues up again. I'm sure he will.

The bill which the Senate aproved Friday makes permanent 14 of the 16 antiterrorism sections of the Patriot Act that were going to expire at the end of this year. The other two that allows the government to conduct roving wiretaps and demand records from institutions like libraries and medical facilities...are to expire in four years unless Congress reauthorizes them. I feel that this is the main reason Sen. Feingold voted for passage. The House of Representatives put a ten year expiration on these same two sections.

The legislation puts in place several new restrictions on the government's powers. A higher standard of proof will be required from the government when it demands library and business records. There will also be greater judicial oversight and increased reporting to Congress on antiterrorism operations, secret searches will have time restrictions placed on them, and there will be limits on roving wiretaps. About these secret searches, did you know that these have been done for years prior to 9/11? Nice of them to put restrictions on them now.

In the wee hours of the morning of Friday, 22 July 2005, the House of Representatives passed their own version of the (un)Patriot Act. Their's was pretty much the same as the original with a few additions mostly to do with punishment for crimes connected to terrorism. One amendment, passed 402-26, would require the FBI director to personally approve any request for library or bookstore records. Another amendment calls for a 20-year jail term for an attack against a rail or mass-transit vehicle, a 30-year sentence if the vehicle carries nuclear material, and life imprisonment...with the possibility of the death penalty... if anyone is killed in such an attack.

Congress has now gone into recess for a month. When this month-long "recess" is over and all the Senators and Representatives return to Washington they will begin the process of hammering out all the details of the (un)Patriot Act so they can send it to the chimp for his paw print.

We've got one month to write to our Senators and Representatives to tell them to make sure that the FBI and other government agencies are not given so much power and authority...permanent or not... that they squash our Constitutional Rights.

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