PATRIOTic Mission Creep
"New Terror Laws Used Vs. Common Criminals" reads the AP headline.
How is the PATRIOT Act is being stretched by law enforcement types? As Stan Lee used to say, "Read on MacDuff":
In the two years since law enforcement agencies gained fresh powers to help them track down and punish terrorists, police and prosecutors have increasingly turned the force of the new laws not on al-Qaida cells but on people charged with common crimes.
The Justice Department said it has used authority given to it by the USA Patriot Act to crack down on currency smugglers and seize money hidden overseas by alleged bookies, con artists and drug dealers.
Federal prosecutors used the act in June to file a charge of "terrorism using a weapon of mass destruction" against a California man after a pipe bomb exploded in his lap, wounding him as he sat in his car.
The most disturbing element of the story may be the charge leveled by a spokesman for a criminal defense attorneys organization:
"Within six months of passing the Patriot Act, the Justice Department was conducting seminars on how to stretch the new wiretapping provisions to extend them beyond terror cases," said Dan Dodson, a spokesman for the National Association of Criminal Defense Attorneys. "They say they want the Patriot Act to fight terrorism, then, within six months, they are teaching their people how to use it on ordinary citizens."
Which should leave PATRIOT Act defenders and critics alike wondering where we'll be in a few more years' time, especially if the sunset provisions in the original act are amended.