Do You Trust The Govt. To Not Abuse Patriot Act? Really?

(image) I've covered how uncomfortable I am with the Patriot Act since the dawn of this blog in 2003, but this post from Mary really drove it home. It covers a Washington Post story that details how, in just two years, the FBI issued more than 140,000 – yes…


I’ve covered how uncomfortable I am with the Patriot Act since the dawn of this blog in 2003, but this post from Mary really drove it home. It covers a Washington Post story that details how, in just two years, the FBI issued more than 140,000 – yes that’s 140 THOUSAND – “national security letters,” in essence, requests for detailed information on the Database of Intentions that have no requirement of probable cause or judicial review.

Last Friday the Post ran a story from an anonymous but verified source. Read this story. From it:

Three years ago, I received a national security letter (NSL) in my capacity as the president of a small Internet access and consulting business. The letter ordered me to provide sensitive information about one of my clients. There was no indication that a judge had reviewed or approved the letter, and it turned out that none had. The letter came with a gag provision that prohibited me from telling anyone, including my client, that the FBI was seeking this information. Based on the context of the demand — a context that the FBI still won’t let me discuss publicly — I suspected that the FBI was abusing its power and that the letter sought information to which the FBI was not entitled.

Rather than turn over the information, I contacted lawyers at the American Civil Liberties Union, and in April 2004 I filed a lawsuit challenging the constitutionality of the NSL power. I never released the information the FBI sought, and last November the FBI decided that it no longer needs the information anyway. But the FBI still hasn’t abandoned the gag order that prevents me from disclosing my experience and concerns with the law or the national security letter that was served on my company. In fact, the government will return to court in the next few weeks to defend the gag orders that are imposed on recipients of these letters.

The piece concludes:

…At some point — a point we passed long ago — the secrecy itself becomes a threat to our democracy. In the wake of the recent revelations, I believe more strongly than ever that the secrecy surrounding the government’s use of the national security letters power is unwarranted and dangerous. I hope that Congress will at last recognize the same thing.

I completely agree.

12 thoughts on “Do You Trust The Govt. To Not Abuse Patriot Act? Really?”

  1. Gag orders can only be honored until those recipients have died, then each and all of their papers will be scrutinized by their families or close friends. Or – in the case of someone completely alone – anyone who finds their possesions.

    What percentage of those now living are seniors or terminally ill?

    So ultimately, all of the information currently silenced by gag orders will be exposed and revealed – which will then unleash tremendous, ongoing press coverage

  2. Whatever it takes. Government officials are only human and are given a task of protecting us from an enemy who is real, has attacked and has vowed to attack again. If they step on a few toes or anger someone who checked out an odd video here or there so be it.
    When the enemy comes again with more force, more dmamge than before will the nitpicky among us still bitch aloud how the Patriot Act violates their sensitivities?

  3. The problem with the Patriot Act is the leniency we are giving the government. The U.S. government is restricted by us, by our constitution, so that we will always have the power. So that we are not ruled by anyone but ourselves. Thousands of Americans died in the Revolutionary War so that freedom from abusive and restrictive government was achieved. Leniency will let them know that they can get away with whatever they want. I’ll tell you what I want, FREEDOM. Freedom from persecution, abuse, and restrictions– the freedom to talk and exchange with whomever I wish without having Big Brother watching over my shoulder.

    Give the government an inch, they WILL take a mile.

  4. Two problems:

    Freedom means you’re free to be less safe than if Big Brother is watching you. Then again, you’re also safe *FROM* Big Brother in this way, but that’s deeper than most people care to think. Nope, it seems people would rather be mollycoddled by a (mostly) benevolent dictatorship, than be free and have to take care of themselves.

    And, while the Patriot Act may seem like a good thing for now, how can we expect Ms Clinton to (ab)use it?

  5. Kris, you say;

    “the freedom to talk and exchange with whomever I wish without having Big Brother watching over my shoulder.”

    Me too however if a terror cell is talking and exchanging information they deserve no such freedoms. It’s dangerous to adopt a mindset that ignores the realities of our time. Thankfully the government has tools to interupt the free exchange of ideas and plans of our enemies on our own soil.

  6. Enter the age of Transparent Life. Caveat emptor. In this case, let the individual assume responsibility for their own privacy, just as they do with their homes.

    Some of those who consume digital information, entertainment, mail, movies and music will insist on privacy. Technology companies and scientists will find ways to market security to individuals and businesses. Others, including governments, will find ways to invade that privacy for various good, well intentioned or malevolent reasons. It strikes me as reasonable that that those who want absolute digital privacy will be able to find it. Their challenge will be the limits they place on their own lifestyle by not allowing the world to know who they are. Corporations and individuals with whom they may want to connect will be unable to. Walls, after all, keep people in as well as out. Ultimately, what individuals seek, is the freedom to explore and connect with relevant content (even advertising in many cases) without the risk of that connection being abused.

    Each of us has a choice to make. How much privacy do we demand? What price freedom? We should rather live in a free world troubled even by threats from terrorists, than one in which individuals or organizations in whom I have little trust have open access and therefore control over our lives.

  7. The Patriot Act, and it’s abuse, aren’t even the worst abrogation of our freedoms by this Presidency. It pales with the elimination of Habeas Corpus, so blithely passed by congress and signed by the gibbering idiot in the White House. The thing that has kept our Republic what it is, is this rule of law, and that you can always have due process. These are truly the darkest days of our republic.

  8. Mike:

    I do agree with you, that it is dangerous to adopt a mindset which ignores the realities of the world we live in [realities including murder, rape, child abuse, poverty and ignorant, disrespectful leadership]. But I do not believe that infringing upon the privacy of each and every American in this country is the correct way to combat said ‘dangerous’ realities. I would give up my privacy to save lives, if it were necessary. I do not believe that in this situation it is necessary. I believe that giving up my privacy at this point implicates the future lives of the citizens of this country. We can and will find a better way.

    Thank you for the insightful conversation. Kudos!

  9. Neil’s comments (“…these are the darkest days of the Republic”) echo the sentiments of a lot of people. Unfortunately, it is a mindset like this that subtly encourages people (politicians included) to justify their actions, creating a slippery slope where even worse things are possible.

    A smart man once said people have a tendency to overestimate the importance of things in the short term and underestimate their impact in the long term.

    Ladies and gentlemen, just as the press failed in its reportage of WMD, so too is it failing to investigate what is likely if we pull out. Let me stress that no one has a crystal ball that can predict the future; but I think it is unreasonable to try to set the clock back.

    The world we have cannot be put solely on the shoulders of our sitting President: we have all been profligate consumers of gasoline, foreign governments have failed to create opportunities for Muslim youth, bad assumptions were made about the importance of maintaining foreign intelligence in the wake of the Soviet empire, and so on. There is blame enough to go around.

    What we *can* do is explore the notion of transparency with the press: seed blogs with the question of what tradeoffs we would be willing to make, and explore their benefits and consequences?

    This is the gift of democracy: a fierce optimism that even in the face of calamity, collectively we can dream and render a better future.

  10. This is an interesting exchange of views. I alway wonder when I read these kinds of comments on either side of the issue, how many of the people have actually read the Patriot Act…or for that matter the Bank Secrecy Act…or for that matter any Executive Orders of the past 4-5 administrations.

    These look like thoughtful comments, but upon closer examination seem to be nothing more than personal opinions. It would be nice for commentators to acknowledge if they actually have, or have not, read any of the referenced laws.

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