The antiterrorism USA Patriot Act passed Congress in haste six weeks after 9/11, with many of its provisions set to expire in 2005. When the time came to renew the law, it was hoped that Congress would give it the careful consideration that was missing the first time around and scale back on some of the law’s more intrusive provisions.
Instead, Senate Republicans seem to be prepared to rubber-stamp the Bush administration’s request that the law be given a blanket renewal. And they would go even further and give the FBI broad new powers to issue subpoenas without first getting approval from a judge or grand jury.
These “administrative subpoenas” supposedly would be limited to terrorism and foreign-intelligence cases, but both terms are susceptible to ever-broadening definition. In any case, that power is a big step toward making a hash of the Fourth Amendment’s protections against search and seizure.
The usual conservative and libertarian opposition to expansions of government powers seem to be missing, with the exception of former Rep. Bob Barr of Georgia, an outspoken critic of the act who earlier this month submitted to the Senate a thoughtful series of recommendations for checks and balances in renewing the Patriot Act. It looks as if he has been ignored.
Barr told the Associated Press, “While we’re fighting to bring provisions … back into balance with the Bill of Rights, here we have the intelligence committee moving to give the government more power outside the judicial system to gain access to records of Americans.”
If the Republican leaders feel that politically they can’t trim back the law for fear of appearing soft on terrorism, the least they could do is again let these provisions sunset in five years and let a future Congress give the law the hard look it needs.
(Contact Dale McFeatters at McFeattersD(at)SHNS.com)