Let Us Now Remember Those Conservatives Who Bashed Us 10 Years Ago for Worrying About PATRIOT Act-Enabled Surveillance


"Baseless Hysteria." |||

Do you know what's a fun search string for the Reason archive? "Patriot" and "215." With those terms, which reference the USA PATRIOT Act and its controversial Section 215 (and form the legal justifications for much of the domestic surveillance revelations that have shook the country this spring and summer), you can find all kinds of citations from conservatives ridiculing unserious civil libertarians for worrying about the federal government having the ability to snoop on Americans' innocuous activities without probable cause.

So, for instance, this September 2003 article by Julian Sanchez (who has since gone on to do valuable work on the subject of government snooping), links to a sneering Washington Times editorial from almost exactly 10 years ago titled "Hype, hysteria and the Patriot Act." Excerpt:

One of the most unfairly maligned provisions of the 2001 Patriot Act is section 215, which permits the FBI to apply for a court order requiring production of library and business records in the course of a terrorism investigation. According to Stanford Law School Dean Kathleen Sullivan, the provision is downright "threatening." The American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) asserts that, under section 215, "the FBI could spy on a person because they don't like the books she reads, or because they don't like the Web sites she visits."

The above is nothing more than hyperbole that bears little relation to the facts. […]

Moreover, this section of the act actually imposes more restrictions on its uses than a federal grand jury subpoena for the same records. […]

It would be a serious mistake to cripple the Patriot Act based on misinformation about the law and misunderstandings about the real-world challenges the law-enforcement community faces in preventing future September 11ths.

Huh. So what does the Washington Times editorial board say now about Section 215?

Just asking questions! |||

The National Security Agency has been lying to Congress and the public. For years, employees at the spy agency have sworn they absolutely, positively never engage in domestic snooping. Thanks to the revelations of fugitive former spook Edward J. Snowden, we know these assurances were lies. Nothing the secretive agency says can be trusted. […]

An amendment introduced by Rep. Justin Amash, Michigan Republican, would have cut off all funding for the dragnet collection of personal phone calls, GPS location history and related "metadata" from Americans not suspected of any misdeeds. The measure would have erased the overly broad interpretation of Section 215 of the Patriot Act, which has enabled the domestic electronic dragnet. Snooping on foreign nationals, which the spy agency claims is the sole purpose of the program, would not have been affected.

Reluctant House leaders consented to schedule a vote on Mr. Amash's amendment only after setting up a "cover" amendment that allowed members to vote in favor of what appeared to be a protection from spy agency abuse but does nothing to stop abuse of Section 215. […]

The surveillance state prefers to work in the dark, not because it's afraid terrorists will learn the United States is listening — al Qaeda is already aware of that — but because it fears an outraged public will take away its playthings, the tools of the trade that entrusts secretive agencies with power no government in history has ever before had.

A strange coalition of spooks, veterans of the George W. Bush White House, Republican and Democratic committee chairmen and the Obama administration emerged from the shadows to prevent the defunding of the domestic spying. Nothing creates "bipartisanship" quite like undermining the Constitution.

You could run similar archival fact-checking exercises for Ramesh Ponnuru, Heather Mac Donald, John Ashcroft, and plenty of others, only some of whom will have dropped the "baseless hysteria" charge that Ashcroft and other surveillance-state enthusiasts made popular a decade ago.

I don't mean to single out the Washington Times here, especially since the paper has come around. Instead, I mean to point out the habit of mind so common then, and likely to be common the next time Republicans run Washington. When Americans have their sense of fear heightened, they over-trust their government. When conservatives approach policy issues of life and death, too many of them suspend the skepticism of government power they otherwise apply to the provision of health care or the collection of taxes. When partisans have power, they work hard to marginalize libertarians. And when government has the ability to, it lies its face off.

These rules are eternal, and require constant pushback. 


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    And there you’ll have it.

  2. Just like the war protesters disappear when a Democrat is in the White House, these people crowing over domestic surveillance will immediately shut up once a member of their team is in the White House.

    1. Libya was nothing like Iraq. And Afghanistan in 2013 is nothing like Afghanistan 2008. Also, drone campaigns began under Bush as did PRISM. Democrats inherited this mess. GIVE THEM TIME.

      Did I miss anything?

      1. Did I miss anything?

        Intentions. Bush waged war so the evil corporations could make dirty profits, while Obama is bringing peace to the world.

        1. Love the sound of that:

          “Bringing piece to the world, one explosion at a time.”

          1. Good, but not quite right.

            How about

            “President Obama: Bringing Peace to the World, One Drone at a Time.”

            1. How about:

              “President Obama: Droning on endlessly about peace.”

      2. The Afghanistan one is particularly funny since he ramped that shit up. It is different.

        1. Obama didn’t even bother to obfuscate his intentions to ramp up the ‘right war’ as he called it, and they still gave him a Nobel Peace Prize.

          1. Yes, but to be fair, it was the right war.

            Seven years prior to him taking office.

            1. Look, just as you can’t eat just one potato chip, you can’t stay just one year in a country where you’re waging war. I mean, once you’re in, you can’t pull out until everyone has been thoroughly screwed.

    2. Possibly, but the other thing to consider is that (aside from truthers), a whole lot of people suddenly considered terrorists to be capable of anything after 9/11, and so the government because the lesser threat. But as time has gone on without any cities getting nuked or whatever, people have started returning to normal. If it’s partisan, then your prediction will pan out. If it’s fear of terrorists, though, the anti-government climate will continue to build until the next major terrorist attack on a civilian target.

      1. I think it will also depend on if the Republicans go in more of a Rand Paul direction or in a Chris Christie direction.

  3. Not trying to absolve them, but I’m assuming it’s an unsigned editorial – is the editorial board the same people as 2003? Perhaps they just have more sensible editors now.

    Slim chance, I know, but it’s possible.

    1. They could have at any time disowned that article, but they didn’t so it remains their stated position.

      It’s important to call out people and organizations on bad errors in judgement.

      It also advances the view that libertarians were right all along about this.

  4. C’mon, babe. I’ve changed! It won’t be like that any more. I’m gonna stop drinking, get a job, and everything!

    1. So now you want the whole world to notice that you’ve come around (ooooh)
      Now you expect we’ll see how you’re really so much better more (ooooh)

      1. Bah, ^now. Bleeping swype.

  5. I saw an ad on my local craiglist for My Little Pony stuff…and I had no idea:

    In the near future, historians will struggle to locate the precise moment when civilization’s wheels finally, irretrievably came off. By then, there will have been too many such moments to pinpoint one with any certainty. But I’ll mark the day as having occurred on a recent August weekend when, standing in the concourse of the Baltimore Convention Center, I watch grown men with problem skin and five o’clock shadows prance around in pony ears, rainbow manes, and braided tails lashed to their belt-loops, doling out “free hugs,” starting “fun! fun! fun!” chants, and spontaneously breaking into song. “Give me a bro hoof,” says one, trying to knuckle-bump me. It’s what you might imagine heaven to be like, if your idea of heaven is hell.


    1. When I encounter one dad who’s brought his 6- and 12-year-old daughters (the more traditional MLP demographic), the latter says she finds all the older male fans “creepy.”

      Well, the stupid appears not to be genetic, at least.

    2. I think all the bronies secretly hate themselves, which is why they’ve decided to make themselves look like the highest form of idiot known to mankind. I just don’t see any other explanation. It’s like hipsters. They willingly make themselves look as bad as possible, yet are seemingly proud of it. I can only assume this is because they want to punish themselves. They’re a fucked up form of modern self-flaggelators.

      1. Its the inevitable result of telling kids they are all special flowers. Not only do they behave strangely, they tolerate it in others. I don’t have to treat Juggalos and Bronies with respect, I just need to not violate their rights. Fuck the conflation of tolerance with non-judgement.

        1. Oh, I am going to judge the shit out of them.

          I tend to think that people overestimate the effects of the trend of telling all kids that they are special and never making them feel bad for being an idiot, because I think a bigger factor is in play: the internet.

          Before the internet, any schmendrick who wanted to play with My Little Pony would have been ridiculed mercilessly. But the internet lets that goofball loser find other goofball losers to reinforce their idiocy, and they realize they’re not alone, and they dive deep into a twisted goofbal monoculture and what you get is Bronies. But this also applies to the Jezebelians or the “thin privilege” people or whoever. The internet allows marginal, fucked up people to find other marginal fucked up people and they band together and reinforce their marginal fucked-upedness.

          1. Some think your sentiment applies to those crazies that support free minds and free markets.

            1. I judge the fuck out of those people.

            2. Sure. And like those crazies, I think people should be allowed to be fucked up weirdos as long as they’re not hurting anyone else. That doesn’t mean I’m not going to think they’re fucked up weirdos, and make fun of them accordingly.

              Let’s see: making fun of dudes who love a girl’s toy, or making fun of people who want to let people live their lives in peace. I’ll take the former.

          2. Like libertarians

            1. Damn should have refreshed first

          3. Yeah. That’s definitely true. The internet does let a bunch of this stuff reach a self-reinforcing level where the 10 guys who would’ve been creepy Bronies no matter what have convinced 2000 other socially akward adult men that its okay to publicly dress up as toys for little girls. And then the other 5000 crazy people who think its fun to be accepted as a part of a group who “doesn’t care what people think”, even if you have to pretend to be a dude who likes MLP.

            1. God, the level of irony in this entire thread is giving me a migraine.

              1. All I’m saying is that I can pass when I have to as normal! My fiancee totally knows about my libertarianism and she is fine with it! I actually am wearing my reason shirt today. And at work.

          4. or libertarians.

            1. Beat twice, and I cant even blame not refreshing.

          5. And the internet allows them to do it publicly too. That’s why we all know that bronies are a thing at all. There have always been weirdo subculture things like that. The internet just allows more people to find their weird little groups like that, and allows everyone else to watch in horror.

        2. This is where it gets awesome. Get Jezebel, Kos, and DU on board that Bronies must be respected and protected. Make Bronies a protected class. Just like the otherkin.

          Get the president to come out and say “If I had a son that was trapped in an anthopomorphic ponie’s body, he’d look like this kid”

        3. Well, I’m all for people behaving strangely, and for tolerating other people’s strange behavior within reason.

          But bronies are still just fucked.

          1. See, I am a special fucking flower. But I figured that out on my own and I realize that I have to deal with the consequences of being as awesome and special as I am on my own.

    3. It’s strange enough that WS visited ‘Bronycon’ but it gets really crazy when you look at the date-this article is from 10 days in the future!

      1. Wheels within wheels, dude, wheels within wheels.


  6. Oh…and the post. Is it a surprise there are still members of the GOP defending the NSA? The vote on the Amash amendment is public record

  7. You could run similar archival fact-checking exercises for Ramesh Ponnuru, Heather Mac Donald, John Ashcroft, and plenty of others, only some of whom will have dropped the “baseless hysteria” charge…

    Most of those named seem to be in the MOAR POWERS camp.

  8. If this was before it was covered up, that “Reason | 6.02” graphic is hiding the best part of the Ashcroft pic.

  9. That was me. I was wrong, and I admit it. I see the light.

    1. Though in my defense, I started seeing the light before 2008

    2. I remember thinking the Patriot Act was a bad idea but I’m pretty sure I was TEAM RED enough to lie back and think of Murka. I was definitely off the bandwagon by 2006.

      1. The very first words which came to mind when I heard of the Patiriot Act were “this is the Alien and Sedition Acts redux.”

      2. I was 19 and had the mistaken idea that the sunset provisions were meaningful.

        “It’s only 5 years, what’s the worst that could happen?”

    3. I admit I was pretty much in “I don’t care, I just want to kill some Islamists” territory. Kill them as efficently as possible, then go home and never speak of it again. I think we’ve pretty much finished killing them now. If the best they can do is get two mal-adapted youths to blow up three people with pressure cookers then we don’t need to worry any more about them them than your average deranged gunman.

      1. Shelter in place!

  10. A strange coalition of spooks, veterans of the George W. Bush White House, Republican and Democratic committee chairmen and the Obama administration emerged from the shadows to prevent the defunding of the domestic spying. Nothing creates “bipartisanship” quite like undermining the Constitution.

    You’re not going to get the ring away from them without a struggle.

    Also, Heather MacDonald is a despicable authoritarian cunt.

    1. I hope you realize just how insulting that word is. She may just be a smidgen socialist.

      1. She does yeoman’s (yeowoman’s?) work exposing many of the follies of liberalism, she just gets carried away sometimes on law ‘n order issues.

      2. Which word? “MacDonald”, “authoritarian”, “dispicable” or “cunt”?

  11. Instead, I mean to point out the habit of mind so common then, and likely to be common the next time Republicans run Washington

    While I realize that this was said as a rhetorical device, I might guess that the people in Mr. Welch’s social set (certainly the journalists) not only recoil at the idea of this “next time” ever happening, it is assuredly the mindset that this will never happen again.

    Not necessarily in a partisan wish fulfillment way but in a matter of fact kind of way.

  12. Bush waged war so the evil corporations could make dirty profits, while Obama is bringing peace to the world.

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