The PATRIOT Act


"Dallas and Austin recently joined the more than 288 American cities and four state legislatures that have passed resolutions opposing offensive portions of the USA PATRIOT Act" ("Dallas, Austin Say "No" to PATRIOT Act." Dispatch ACLU Texas, Spring 2004: 7).


"William Safire.. defined the first Patriot Act as a presidential effort to seize dictatorial control" (Phillips, Peter, and Project Censored. Censored 2004: The Top 25 Censored Stories. NY: Seven Stories Press, 2003: 39).

"Under Section 501, a U.S. citizen engaging in lawful activity can be picked off the streets or from home and taken to a secret military tribunal with no access to or notification of a lawyer, the press, or family... any violation of federal or state law could designate a U.S. citizen as an "enemy combatant" and allow him or her to be stripped of citizenship" (40).

"Section 102 states that any information gathering can be considered as the pursuit of covert intelligence for a foreign power -- even legal intelligence gathering by a U.S. reporter. This provision could make newsgathering illegal.." (40).

"..the Bush [II] Administration is calling for a repeal of the Posse Comitatus Act of 1878.. [which] prohibit[s] the deployment of federal military forces onto American streets.." (40).

* "..the "War on Terrorism" is the cover for the war on dissent" (Phillips, Peter, and Project Censored. Censored 2004: The Top 25 Censored Stories. NY: Seven Stories Press, 2003: 41).


"In Boston in late May, a student who dressed up as an Abu Ghraib torture victim, wearing a hood and standing on a milk crate in front of an Army recruiting center, was arrested and charged with making a terrorist threat... And in Buffalo, an artist faces indictment under the USA Patriot Act for making a political art installation that used scientific equipment; the feds are, surreally, claiming that the art was actually a weapons lab" (Liza Featherstone. "The Fine Art of Bush-Bashing." The Nation, July 12, 2004: 18-20).


"Ashcroft demanded that his proposal be enacted within three days, and he suggested publicly that Congress would be responsible for any subsequent terrorist attacks if it did not meet his deadline... bypassing the normal committee approval process.." (Phillips, Peter, and Project Censored. Censored 2004: The Top 25 Censored Stories. NY: Seven Stories Press, 2003: 266).

"..the arm-twisting used by the Senate leadership to pass the Patriot Act there would not work in the House. A more devious strategy [was] to rewrite the bill in the middle of the night before the floor debate, making it conform to Ashcroft's specifications" (268).

"..they voted for it not knowing what was in it and under a great fear of being considered unpatriotic...

"The act has had three fundamental effects on American government and society: 1) It introduced unprecedented government secrecy; 2) It removed checks and balances within our governing system, specifically weakening the judicial oversight of the executive branch; 3) It eroded the civil liberties of citizens and noncitizens alike, allowing secret arrests and detention of persons based solely on their country of origin, race, religion, or ethnicity" (Phillips, Peter, and Project Censored. Censored 2004: The Top 25 Censored Stories. NY: Seven Stories Press, 2003: 269).

Some Key Provisions:

Section 101: "Establishes a new counterterrorism fund without fiscal year limitation and of unnamed amount...

Section 105: "Establishes a "national network of electronic crimes task forces"...

Section 206: "Provides "roving wiretap" authority to FISA [Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act]...

Sections 209, 212, 215 and 216: "..enhancements to standard surveillance techniques, including the authorization of the government's controversial "Carnivore" electronic surveillance programs...

Section 213: "Allows delayed notification of "nonphysical search warrants," known as "sneak and peek warrants"...

Section 215: "Allows federal investigators to seize "any tangible thing" from libraries and other institutions in FISA type investigations...

Section 216: "Explicitly places access to Internet information, including e-mail and Web browsing information, within the reach of pen/trap orders, without need to show probable cause...

Section 217: "Allows any government employee to conduct electronic content surveillance of U.S. persons...

Section 218: "Lowers the standard for obtaining FISA warrants" (270).

Sections 311, 312, 316, and 319: "Allows federal investigators to impose "special measures" upon any domestic bank or financial institution and impose new due diligence requirements...

Section 326: "Establishes new or expanded requirements to track identities of persons opening new bank accounts...

Section 358: "Allows government investigators access to consumer records without a court order...

Section 411: "Creates a new definition of terrorism, with wide latitude for federal investigators to identify "terrorist groups"...

Section 412: "Provides for mandatory detention of suspected aliens.. and possible indefinite detention...

Section 504: "Links the investigation of any crime with the search for foreign intelligence...

Sections 507 and 508: "Allows government investigators access to educational records without a court order...

Section 802: "Creates a new crime called "domestic terrorism"...

Section 803: "Expands the crimes of harboring, concealing, or providing material support for terrorists...

Sections 809-812: "Allows increased penalties for certain terrorist crimes, with no statute of limitations" (271).

"Past FBI requests for library records have required a court-ordered subpoena, which can be challenged in open court by the library. Under the Patriot Act, a "warrant" issued by a secret FISA court is sufficient to require the immediate release of library records, and no court review or adversarial hearing is available to challenge the process. To make matters worse, libraries or librarians served with such a warrant may not disclose, under penalty of law, the existence of the warrant or the fact that records were produced in response to it.

"Another discouraging aspect of library surveillance under Section 215 of the Patriot Act is the fact that state library confidentiality laws, passed in 48 of our 50 states, are overridden by these new FBI warrants. Thus, years of hard work by librarians and state legislators throughout the land to protect the privacy of library patrons has been undone by a single federal law" (273).

"..the new Attorney General Guidelines on the FBI.. issued on May 30, 2002, by Attorney General Ashcroft.. [allow the FBI to] routinely post undercover agents in libraries to observe and record the behavior of patrons.. The FBI can now enter libraries or bookstores, not in search for books, but for terrorists. Undercover agents will "hang out" in libraries to secretly spy on other patrons..." (274).

"The new guidelines expressly state that FBI agents may engage in online research on individuals and may use commercial "data-mining" services, such as those companies that track commercial transactions, including book purchases" (Phillips, Peter, and Project Censored. Censored 2004: The Top 25 Censored Stories. NY: Seven Stories Press, 2003: 275).

For more, see the book Refuge of a Scoundrel: The USA Patriot Act in Libraries, by Herbert Foerstel (Greenwood Publishers/Libraries Unlimited).

"..an FW Weekly articles on April 17, 2003, cited a case in New Mexico where a former public defender was arrested by federal agents and interrogated for five hours after using a computer at a Santa Fe academic library, apparently as a result of a chat room statement that President Bush was out of control" (277).

"The USA Patriot Act is just one of several troubling policies... Another is the Enhanced Computer Assisted Pre-screening System (CAPPS-II), which profiles airline passengers and provides "No-Fly" watch lists to the Transportation Security Administration... all airline passengers are assigned a risk assessment "score" without recourse. As a result, innocent people could be branded security risks on the basis of flawed data and without any meaningful way to challenge the government's determination.

"A third example is the Department of Defense Total Information Awareness program that seeks to scam billions of personal electronic, financial, medical, communication, education, housing and travel transactions, analyze them utilizing both computer algorithms and human analysis, and then flag suspicious activity... it will collect information (and misinformation) on everyone, much of which can be misused...

"..finally.. the proposed Domestic Security Enhancement Act of 2003, a more extreme version of the USA Patriot Act.. [will] restrict release of information about health or safety hazards posed by chemical or other plants, expand the definition of terrorist acts to include civil disobedience.. strip even native-born Americans of all of the rights of US citizenship if they provide support to unpopular organizations.." (Phillips, Peter, and Project Censored. Censored 2004: The Top 25 Censored Stories. NY: Seven Stories Press, 2003: 278).


"...the Intelligence Reform Act of 2004... the President... signed it into law... is actually... an addendum to the Patriot Act... "Until now, if a federal prosecutor moved to hold a defendant without bail, he or she had to demonstrate to a judge that the target is a flight risk. Not anymore...

"The new law also creates what is sure to become a national ID card through a federal mandate to establish national standards for driver licenses... there will be a magnetic strip on the back containing... eventually.. biometric information as well as radio frequency chips... Your photo... will be digitalized and thereby swiftly linked to omnivorous government databases...

""Until [the Intelligence Reform Act], it was unlawful to leak federal grand jury testimony... Now, federal prosecutors... may lawfully leak. This gives the government a tool permitting enormous harm, since grand jury leaks can destroy a public figure's reputation...

"The "reform" law also expands wiretapping powers... creating a nation of suspects" (Nat Hentoff. "A Nation of Suspects." The Progressive, March 2005: 14).


"Section 215 of the Patriot Act... the FBI... power to get library records and then impose a gag rule forbidding the library to tell anyone... Section 215 also permits further ransacking... by allowing the FBI to grab the entire database of a library without showing that any unsuspecting individual borrower of books is in any way connected to terrorism...

"In a tiny story buried in the April 8 New York Times, the ever vigilant Neil Lewis reported: "Pentagon planners are proposing that military commanders be authorized to declare someone an enemy combatant and detain him if he belongs to any of hundreds of suspected organizations"--and hold him indefinitely without charges. The names of those organizations have not been disclosed. Just in case, check your membership cards" (Nat Hentoff. "Mask of moderation." The Progressive, June, 2005: 14).


"Six states and more than 370 cities and towns have adopted resolutions condemning the act's civil liberties abuses. Courts have declared some of its provisions unconstitutional. An impressive coalition of conservative and liberal groups, featuring the likes of former Republican Congressman Bob Barr and the ACLU's Anthony Romero, has vowed to restore checks and balances to a law passed in haste and fear just six weeks after 9/11. And one of the most powerful lobbies in the country is on the case--librarians...

"... the whole debate is largely a diversion, because the worst civil liberties abuses since 9/11 have been achieved without reliance on the Patriot Act, as they are based on executive initiatives that Congress has no will to challenge...

"Among the most troubling provisions NOT sunsetted are those on immigration. They authorize the government to deny entry to foreigners because of speech rather than actions, to deport even permanent residents who innocently supported disfavored political groups and to lock up foreign nationals without charges.

"Patriot Act proponents often insist that there have been no abuses of the act, but the law's immigration provisions have clearly been abused. In one case, the government ordered an Indian man deported for having set up a tent for religious prayer and food, simply because unnamed members of a "terrorist organization" were allegedly among those who came to services at the tent. In a case I am handling for the Center for Constitutional Rights, the government is seeking to deport two long-time permanent residents for having distributed PLO magazines in Los Angeles in the 1980s, and for having organized two Palestinian community dinners at which they raised money for humanitarian causes. The government considers it irrelevant that distributing magazines and raising humanitarian aid was entirely lawful, even constitutionally protected, at the time...

Not only are these aspects of the Patriot Act not subject to debate, but Congress has just passed still more onerous immigration provisions as part of the Iraq War appropriations bill. This legislation makes the Patriot Act look humane. It makes deportable any foreign national who ever joined or made a donation to any organization of two or more people that ever used or threatened to use a weapon...

"Also not up for reconsideration is a Patriot Act section that authorizes the Treasury Secretary to freeze the assets of any entity in the United States without evidence of wrongdoing, simply by claiming that it is "under investigation" for potential violations of a law barring material support to groups or individuals designated as "terrorist," a term not defined in the law, meaning it is whatever the Treasury Department says it is...

"Still another Patriot Act provision criminalizes speech by making it illegal to provide "expert advice" to designated "terrorist organizations."... This provision, too, is not subject to sunset, even though a US district court has declared it unconstitutional...

"So the Patriot Act imposes guilt by association, punishes speech, authorizes the use of secret evidence and allows detention without charges--yet none of that will be subject to the Patriot Act debates. Nor will the debates address the civil liberties abuses committed by US law enforcement agencies or the military outside the Patriot Act--such as the incommunicado detention, without charges or hearings, of hundreds of "enemy combatants" around the world; the use of immigration law to launch a nationwide campaign of ethnic profiling and to detain more than 5,000 foreign nationals, virtually all Arabs or Muslims, none of whom have been convicted of a terrorist crime; the development and application of computer data-mining programs that afford the government ready access to a wealth of private information about all of us without any basis for suspicion; the FBI's monitoring of public meetings and religious services without any grounds for suspecting criminal activity, under guidelines written by John Ashcroft; and, of course, the use of "coercive interrogation" to extract information from suspects in the war on terror, including such tactics as "waterboarding," in which the suspect is made to feat that he is drowning...

"Thus, the Patriot Act permits tools previously limited to criminal investigations to be used to investigate, say, a British lawyer working for Amnesty International who is not suspected of any involvement in terrorism or crime. Yet no one has suggested limiting the definition of an agent of a foreign power to "terrorists and spies," the examples the government invariably uses when it defends the law.

"The same point applies to Section 215, the libraries provision. The government claims that the power to demand records from libraries or other business entities established in Section 215 already existed before the Patriot Act, in the guise of a grand jury subpoena. But a grand jury subpoena is available only when the government has sufficient grounds to believe a crime has been committed to go to the trouble of empaneling a grand jury. Section 215 can be triggered without any evidence of wrongdoing whatsoever--the law would justify a search of library records to see who has checked out the same books as the Amnesty International lawyer, for example. The critical shift is from an investigation focuse on CRIME to one focused on POLITICAL ACTIVITY of foreign agents. Yet critics of Section 215 have not suggested narrowing the expansive definitions of "agent of a foreign power" or "foreign intelligence," which are at the root of the problem" (David Cole. "The missing patriot debate." The Nation, May 30, 2005: 18-21).


"Colorado became the seventh state to officially condemn the Patriot Act, joining Alaska, Hawaii, Maine, Vermont, Idaho and Montana (not to mention more than 375 local communities)" ("A Year of Sweet Victories." The Nation, Jan. 2, 2006: 10).


"The White House last week suffered a new assault on its conduct of the war on terror when the Senate refused to renew provisions of the Patriot Act.

"The rebuff, which leaves the anti-terror law in limbo before crucial portions expire on December 31, was delivered amid growing outrage at reports that President Bush secretly authorized eavesdropping on Americans inside the US without court oversight" (Suzanne Goldenberg. "Senate refuses to extend Patriot Act." Guardian Weekly, Dec. 23, 2005: 7).


Colby Glass, MLIS