Over at The Atlantic, Conor Friedersdorf re-examines the things newspapers and commentators were saying about the PATRIOT Act and its surveillance-expanding Section 215 during the law's re-authorization two years ago. Some examples:
Nathan Sales, a law professor at George Mason University, wrote, "America needs the Patriot Act because it helps prevent terrorism while posing little risk to civil liberties. The law simply lets counterterrorism agents use tools that police officers have used for decades. And it contains elaborate safeguards against abuse."
Emphasis Friedersdorf's (above and below). Here's National Review tough-on-terrorism guy Andrew C. McCarthy:
It is a myth perpetuated by the Bush-deranged media that the Patriot Act was a dramatic expansion of federal power and that it unduly infringed on American civil liberties. For the most part, Patriot simply endowed the national security side of the FBI's house with the same powers that had long been exercised by the law-enforcement side.
And Assistant Attorney General Ronald Weich, in a letter to skeptical Sens. Ron Wyden (D-Oregon) and Mark Udall (D-Colorado):
the Executive Branch has done everything it can to ensure that the people's elected representatives are fully informed of the intelligence collection operations at issue and how they function.
Friedersdorf's conclusion? Secrecy is "corroding our democracy":
In 2011, the debate surrounding the re-authorization of a major piece of domestic legislation was, indisputably, a sham. Legislators were misled. Careful, informed commentators contributing arguments and analysis in the press unwittingly misled readers with content that lacked crucial context. Hard news articles were just as useless for formulating an informed opinion.
I wrote on the same broad subject earlier this morning.
Reason on Section 215 here, including this Jacob Sullum piece from 2003 expressing skepticism at then-Attorney General John Ashcroft's assurance that worries over the clause amounted to "baseless hysteria."