James Leroy Wilson's blog

Saturday, April 02, 2005

Patriots to Restore Checks and Balances

It is oh-so frustrating that friends of liberty have to work gradually and incrementally to get back what the enemies of the Constitution can take away in one fell swoop. Nevertheless, three cheers for Paul Weyrich for teaming up with the ACLU and other groups to focus on three major provisions of the PATRIOT Act:

They are as follows: Section 213 (which I [Paul Weyrich] handled at the press conference). We, the PRCB, say that Congress should modify Section 213 by imposing strict monitoring on the use of secret warrants. Under the Patriot Act, investigators can secretly enter your home or office (the so-called sneak-and-peek provision), secretly examine your possessions, and not inform you that they have done so for a very long time. In fact, there is no time limit in the bill. Not only is that a problem but warrants that are issued can have no connection with terrorists or terrorism. Much of the Patriot Act has been used for other purposes than preventing terrorism because it circumvents the much stricter requirements of the Constitution. I am against gambling and prostitution as well but we had adequate laws to govern those crimes. Yet the USA Patriot Act all too frequently has been used in regular criminal cases. Secret searches are more like KGB practices than the USA practices. They violate the Fourth Amendment freedoms American count on and are out of line with the Constitution. We don’t call for repeal of this section but for Congress to impose strict monitoring policies on the use of secret warrants to ensure that Patriot Act is focused on terrorists

Then there is Section 215. In our view this section needs to be brought in line with the Constitution even though we are not calling for repeal. It allows the federal government to seize information about you—the books you borrow or purchase, other purchases, your medical records - even if no specific fact connects you to a foreign agent. Congress should require probable cause that you are connected with terrorism before such secret searches are allowed. This bill is supposed to be about terrorists and not ordinary law abiding citizens. Allowing the government to collect personal information on medical records, guns, finances and other personal purchases without probable cause is a threat to personal privacy and a violation of American’s Fourth Amendment freedoms. We believe Congress should restore the checks and balances we traditionally have had on government power.

Finally, there is Section 802. We want Congress to modify Section 802 by linking a new definition of terrorism to specific crimes such as assassination attempts or kidnapping. Currently the Patriot Act’s overly broad definition can be used by federal agents to deploy an array of invasive new authorities which really do not involve terrorism at all. The Act could be used against pro-lifers, or anti-war demonstrators or pro-gun control and anti-gun control demonstrators or anyone who dissents from government policy.

This very modest modification would ensure that the thrust of the Patriot Act is against terrorists and not ordinary Americans.Yes, we have a number of other troubling provisions of the USA Patriot Act. Individual groups which are part of this Coalition will be contacting the Congress on their own in this regard. But Patriots to Restore Checks and Balances, at least until we all can reach a consensus, will stick with educating Congress and the public on those three provisions.

As I mentioned at the press conference my friend, former Attorney General John Ashcroft, was absolutely close-minded on the USA Patriot Act. My colleague Steve Lilienthal and I met with a representative of the Justice Department and someone from the White House. They would consider no change whatsoever. Not even on the question of what defines a terrorist. They wanted the flexibility to define a terrorist as anyone who disagreed with them. I hope new Attorney General Alberto Gonzales is more reasonable on this matter.

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