Tuesday, 11 September 2007

The unconstitutional, unPATRIOTic Act

It's only appropriate on the sixth anniversary of the 11 September 2001 terrorist attacks (see my 9/11 post) to publish a blog post about the exploitation of such a tragedy for potential political gain.

Last week, a judge ruled portions of the controversial Patriot Act unlawful and conflicting the United States Constitution.

A federal judge...struck down the parts of the recently revised USA Patriot Act that authorized the Federal Bureau of Investigation to use informal secret demands called national security letters to compel companies to provide customer records.

The law allowed the F.B.I. not only to force communications companies, including telephone and Internet providers, to turn over the records without court authorization, but also to forbid the companies to tell the customers or anyone else what they had done. Under the law, enacted last year, the ability of the courts to review challenges to the ban on disclosures was quite limited.

The judge, Victor Marrero of the Federal District Court in Manhattan, ruled that the measure violated the First Amendment and the separation of powers guarantee.

Judge Marrero said he feared that the law could be the first step in a series of intrusions into the judiciary’s role that would be “the legislative equivalent of breaking and entering, with an ominous free pass to the hijacking of constitutional values.”

According to a report from the Justice Department’s inspector general in March, the F.B.I. issued about 143,000 requests through national security letters from 2003 to 2005. The report found that the bureau had often used the letters improperly and sometimes illegally.

(Read about the FBI's illegal use of the national security letters here.)
Yesterday’s decision was a sequel to rulings by Judge Marrero in 2004 and a federal judge in Connecticut in 2005, both of which enjoined an earlier version of the law. Congress responded last year by amending the law in reauthorizing it.
Judge Marrero used his strongest language and evocative historical analogies in criticizing the aspect of the new law that imposed restrictions on the courts’ ability to review the F.B.I.’s determinations.

(Read the decision in full.)

Tying the emotional word 'patriot' to an act that conflicts with many areas of fundamental American democratic law was a brilliant political move by the Bush administration and its Republican allies. It allowed them to label anyone who opposed the act unpatriotic, and even if they didn't label so, who's going to oppose something with the word 'patriot' in its name? That is like opposing the "Kittens are Cute Act" or the "America the Great and Victorious Act".

Its name is yet another one of those slanted catch-phrases — "war on terror", "with us or against us", "cut and run", the "surge" — under the mother of political spin-words: the "war on terror", which has entered most into the mainstream media and the consciousness of a nation, even though it's not a real war and you can't really fight 'terror', or even the intangible ideology of terrorism.

No comments: