Why the Patriot Act Needs Some Changes
President Bush is calling for the renewal of the Patriot Act without change and with additions. Despite repeated criticism about the act going too far in sacrificing freedoms to protect us, Bush feels that the act is fair and balanced. He is mistaken.
First, I should state that Bush is right when he says we need to be able to vigorously investigate possible terrorist activities. Much of the Patriot Act is vital and has helped tear down barriers between intelligence agencies and law enforcement as well as provide new and better methods of investigating terrorism—such as roving wire taps and e-mail tracing.
But where the Patriot Act goes wrong is in the removal of judicial oversight. As the ACLU has accurately pointed out:
Under section 215 of the Patriot Act, judges who sit on a secret court must approve a request for records about people’s health, wealth or the transactions of their daily life if the law enforcement agents say they want it for a foreign intelligence investigation. None of these requests has ever been denied and the order includes a permanent gag order. And the White House has refused the common sense requirement that there be specific facts connecting the records sought to a foreign agent. And, at the same time, the White House is now pushing for ‘administrative subpoenas,’ which would allow the FBI to issue and sign its own search orders - without prior judicial approval. If this became law, we would go from diminished judicial approval to none at all.
Some might argue that these are necessary steps because our enemy is so evil. And yet, let’s not forget why we are fighting. It is not just for our lives, it is for our freedoms too. And freedom is compromised when government takes too much power. Which is why our Founders gave us the Bill of Rights and, specifically, the Fourth Amendment:
The Right of the people to be secure in their persons, houses, papers, and effects, against unreasonable searches and seizures, shall not be violated, and no Warrants shall issue, but upon probable cause, supported by Oath or affirmation, and particularly describing the place to be searched, and the person or things to be seized.
There are other provisions in the Patriot Act that many people take issue with. It’s not a perfect act, being created just weeks after September 11, 2001, when passions were still heated and fear still great. Congress now has an opportunity to review many provisions and correct errors they may have made in their understandable haste in 2001.
Congress should make a number of changes to the Patriot Act to ensure the very freedoms we are fighting for remain in the hands of the people and not the government. But if they make only one change, it should be to reinstate full judicial oversight. I trust our law enforcement to do what’s right, but it is foolish to assume there will not be those who abuse their power. The issuance of warrants by a judge is the best check available, it can be handled quickly—and it’s mandated by the Constitution.
The President is just trying to protect our lives. But Congress needs to make sure our freedoms are protected too.