Three provisions of the PATRIOT Act set to expire were extended yesterday as Senate leaders effectively shut off debate and worked to block attempts to amend the Patriot Act to include privacy protections. The reauthorized provisions went to the House for approval and, after passing through Congress, the legislation was flown to US President Barack Obama in France so he could sign the reauthorization.
The extended provisions were, according to the ACLU, the John Doe roving wiretap provision, Section 215 or the "library records" provision and the never before used "lone wolf" provision - all lack proper privacy safeguards.
The continued granting of overly broad powers was accompanied by passage in the House of a National Defense programs bill that included language granting the Executive Branch the authority to wage worldwide war.
A handful of lawmakers in the House and Senate attempted to make amendments or block the passage of measures that would allow powers granted to the state to greatly expand. A trans-partisan group of House representatives introduced an amendment that would have struck down the worldwide war provision. Senator Rand Paul, Senator Mark Udall and Senator Ron Wyden each made valiant attempts to have a comprehensive debate on the provisions before granting reauthorization but the Obama Administration discouraged debate.
Marcy Wheeler of Firedoglake and Mike Riggs of Reason.com reported Sen. Harry Reid and others in Congress were using Obama Administration fearmongering and talking points to prevent provisions from expiration. Debate (and in effect democracy) was being obstructed because the White House was asserting, "The FBI would be able to continue using orders it had already obtained, but it would not be able to apply for new ones if further tips and leads came in about a possible terrorist operation"no one could predict what the consequences of a temporary lapse might be."
The fearmongering induced the following reaction from Sen. Paul:
"There have been people who [have] implied in print that if I hold the PATRIOT Act up and they attack us tonight, that I'm responsible for the attack.
There [have] been people who have implied that if some terrorist gets a gun, that I'm somehow responsible. It's -- it's sort of the analogy of saying that because I believe that you should get a warrant before you go into a potential or alleged murderer's house that somehow I'm in favor of murder.
The diligent work of bloggers closely following national security issues in the United States unearthed the fraudulence of such bullying. Had the provisions not been extended, a "grandfather clause" would have permitted their continued use in investigations that were already taking place.Paul was eventually allowed by Reid to fully engage in the legislative process and bring two of his amendments to a vote. In his statement on why he thought it important to amend the Patriot Act, he deconstructed myths surrounding the Act, calling into question whether the government should have a right to sift through millions of gun records without asking if you are suspect; whether the government should be able to monitor what books citizens read; whether the government should have access to banking records without a warrant; whether it is good security to treat everyone as a potential terror suspect; whether the Patriot Act has truly given the government tools that have led to the capture of terrorists; whether violating the Fourth Amendment should be permissible; whether we as Americans believe in the rule of law; and whether these issues should be open to debate.
Udall, in t reauthorization in just a few days. Trust me, we have time and should take that time for a full debate."">his statement on the extension, stated, "Many Americans have been demanding reforms to these provisions for years. We've known for months - years, in fact - that this was on our to-do list this Congress. We've been passing short-term extensions in order to give us time to consider a comprehensive overhaul"Yet we're now being pushed to approve a four-year straight reauthorization in just a few days. Trust me, we have time and should take that time for a full debate."
While the extension of provisions merits scrutiny, the squelching of democratic debate demands just as much scrutiny if not more. As Paul said in his statement on the floor, it is incredibly important to have debates on the floor, and "that's why there is a certain amount of disappointment to having arrived in Washington and to see the fear of debate of the constitution and that we really need to be debating these things."
Not allowing debate was determined prior to the votes. As bloggers like Salon.com's Glenn Greenwald highlighted, the idea was "to pass the extension with as little debate as possible to avoid a protracted and familiar argument over the expanded power the law gives to the government."
Congress should not be a body that inhibits debate. Authorizing power to government that so clearly threatens civil liberties such as rights to privacy (and in many cases First Amendment rights) should not be scrutinized, despite the fact that there exists clear evidence of government abuses of power under the Patriot Act.
Paul sharply noted that chilling debate is something those in the Legislative Branch of government have done multiple times. On the issue of war in Libya, there was no debate. An invasion was launched without asking Congress for permission (a move, that over sixty days later, now clearly violates the War Powers Act).
We now have a war in which there has been no congressional debate and no congressional vote. But you know what they argue? They say it is just a little war. But you know what? It is a big principle.