Happy 10th Birthday, USA PATRIOT Act.
Almost two-thirds of Americans approve of the Occupy Wall Street demonstrations. Nearly half approve of the USA PATRIOT Act. Fortunately, some of its flaws are receiving some much needed attention on its 10th birthday.
The Patriot Act, which was enacted 45 days after September 11 attacks, was designed to give intelligence agencies more power to collect information in cases dealing with national security.
Signed into law by George W. Bush on this day in 2001, it has received mixed reviews from civil rights advocates and constitutionalists alike. Nonetheless, this May Obama signed a four year extension for three controversial provisions of the Act (roving wire taps, searches of business records, and conducting surveillance of individuals suspected of terrorist activities but who are not associated with any known organizations).
Over the past ten years the Patriot Act has experienced some growing pains. For example, between 2003 and 2006 there was only 1 terror-related conviction as a result of the Act. Additionally, of the 53 reported criminal referrals made to prosecutors as a result of the Act, 0 were for terrorism, and of the 3,970 “sneak peaks” (secret raids of homes and offices) conducted in 2010, less than 1% were terror-related.
Here’s an excellent infographic from the ACLUdepicting the Act’s overreach.
As we tweeted earlier this month, the Justice Department is being sued by the New York Times and reporter Charlie Savage over its failure to disclose its “secret” government interpretations of the Patriot Act.
The lawsuit originated from comments made by Senators Mark Udall (D-Colo.) and Ron Wyden (D-Ore.) when the Senate was debating reauthorization of the Act. As Senator Wyden stated, “I want to deliver a warning this afternoon: When the American people find out how their government has secretly interpreted the Patriot Act, they will be stunned and they will be angry.”
To date, the Justice Department has failed to respond to the request or to provide a lawful reason for withholding this interpretations.
As extensive as the privacy concerns caused by the Patriot Act are, the existence of a “secret interpretation” would be incredibly troubling.