Patriot Act Assaults Civil Liberties

by John D. Brulé


The Patriot Act, delivered to Congress within five days of 9/11 and passed 40 days later, was one of the Bush Administration’s first steps to make the US into an Orwellian state. This assault on the Bill of Rights was launched with essentially no debate by Congress. With Republicans and Democrats alike caving in to administration pressure and wanting to react to the disaster of 9/11, they followed Mr. Bush in striking a blow to the Bill of Rights.

The Patriot Act permits the Federal government to snoop into our reading habits and gather data about us through secret search orders and “sneak and peek” warrants, which we are not able to challenge or even know about. This type of warrant marks a serious change in the way search warrants are executed.

The Patriot Act expanded the activities of a secret spy court into the lives of a wide range of everyday US Americans. The bill defines “domestic terrorism” so that certain kinds of demonstrations (like marching in the street without a permit) could result in a terrorism investigation. Activists throughout the country now have to wonder whether creative demonstrations will spark FBI surveillance.

Last year, Syracuse’s Common Council voted 7-1 to pass a resolution urging Congress to repeal certain sections of the Patriot Act. The resolution instructs the Common Council President to ask federal authorities annually for information to help assess the effect of federal anti-terrorism efforts on Syracusans. US Attorney Glenn Suddaby’s response to this year’s request was “to neither confirm nor deny that an investigation or matter is even pending in our Office.”

Conservatives in Congress want to extend the Patriot Act, while others want to revise it. Strong efforts are being made to eliminate the Act’s “sunset” provisions, which if successful, would retain some of the Act’s most troubling surveillance provisions (instead of their automatically expiring in 2005). There are other bills to revise some of the Act’s worst provisions. Demand that our Congressmembers support these two bills — the Civil Liberties Restoration Act (CLRA) and a Safety and Freedom Ensured Act (SAFE).

For more information on these Acts, other post 9/11 threats to our civil liberties and how to fight them, contact the Bill of Rights Defense Campaign at 471-2821 or visit www.bordc.org and www.aclu.org/SafeandFree