Patriot Act

Giving Government Vast Snooping Authority Is One Thing Democrats and Republicans Both Like

They simply disagree over who should be in charge of misusing and abusing those excessive powers.


Are you thoroughly invested in the impeachment drama? Do you thrill to the clash of good guys and villains in the ring of democracy, with the fate of the republic as the prize?

Have fun with that. There's a good case to be made that all this political heat and light is little more than professional wrestling for flabby people. If Democrats really feared Donald Trump's exercise of the powers of the presidency, why would they propose extending the surveillance powers of the controversial Patriot Act?

Buried on the next-to-last page of the Continuing Appropriations Act, meant to keep the government's lights on and dated yesterday, is the following language:

Section  102(b)(1)  of  the  USA  PATRIOT  Improvement  and  Reauthorization  Act  of  2005  (50  U.S.C.  101805  note)  is  amended  by  striking  "December  15,  2019"  and inserting "March 15, 2020".

This relatively innocuous language pushes back the sunset provision of the Patriot Act by three months, leaving its vast powers in the hands of a president who Democratic presidential hopeful Joe Biden charges with "failure to uphold basic democratic principles," who House Speaker Nancy Pelosi has accused of "alarming connections and conduct with Russia" and, joined by Senate Democratic Leader Charles Schumer, says is making an attempt to "shred the Constitution."

Many Democrats flat-out call Trump a "traitor."

If you take those comments seriously, that's a hell of a guy to trust with the powers granted by the Patriot Act. And frightening powers they are.

"The USA PATRIOT Act broadly expands law enforcement's surveillance and investigative powers and represents one of the most significant threats to civil liberties, privacy, and democratic traditions in US history," notes the Electronic Frontier Foundation. The law "eliminates checks and balances that previously gave courts the opportunity to ensure that those powers were not abused," the group adds.

The American Civil Liberties Union agrees, calling the Patriot Act "an overnight revision of the nation's surveillance laws that vastly expanded the government's authority to spy on its own citizens, while simultaneously reducing checks and balances on those powers like judicial oversight, public accountability, and the ability to challenge government searches in court."

Passed in the panic-stricken wake of the September 11, 2001 terrorist attacks, the Patriot Act was basically a dusted-off wish-list of surveillance-state powers drafted after the 1995 Oklahoma City bombing. Although the bill failed, at first, to gain congressional approval, it sat ready and waiting for the right set of circumstances to come along. That happened as America watched buildings burn and fellow citizens die six years later. Even in that environment of fear, lawmakers included a sunset provision in the Patriot Act, meaning it would expire after four years. With some changes, it was reauthorized in 2005, 2011, and 2015.

The alleged authorship of the original surveillance proposal provides a helpful hint as to why Democrats might be so eager to extend expansive surveillance power, even for a president they say they despise: They had a hand in its creation.

"I drafted a terrorism bill after the Oklahoma City bombing," then-future veep and perennial presidential wannabe Joe Biden boasted to The New Republic in 2008. "And the bill John Ashcroft sent up was my bill."

Whether or not Biden really authored what became the Patriot Act, he and many of his fellow Democrats certainly take pride of ownership and show plenty of enthusiasm for its powers. The 2011 and 2015 reauthorizations occurred under Democratic President Barack Obama, with Biden as vice president.

The Trump administration also favors reauthorization of the Patriot Act, including a dropped provision allowing the National Security Agency to gain access to records of Americans' communications. That part had been somewhat defanged under the Obama administration amidst public uproar over revelations of domestic surveillance by whistleblower Edward Snowden.

Biden, as vice president, threatened countries that considered offering asylum to Snowden—another feather in his surveillance-state cap.

The Democratic Party, by and large, seems to be right there with Biden. This year's proposed reauthorization of the Patriot Act isn't exactly a one-off; last year, donkey party leaders kneecapped an effort in the House by dissident libertarian-leaning Republicans and liberal Democrats to roll back some of the more intrusive elements of the Patriot Act.

"It became quickly apparent that leading Democrats intended to side with Trump and against those within their own party who favored imposing safeguards on the Trump administration's ability to engage in domestic surveillance," The Intercept's Glenn Greenwald wrote at the time. "The most bizarre aspect of this spectacle was that the Democrats who most aggressively defended Trump's version of the surveillance bill—the Democrats most eager to preserve Trump's spying powers as virtually limitless—were the very same Democratic House members who have become media stars this year by flamboyantly denouncing Trump as a treasonous, lawless despot in front of every television camera they could find."

When the 2018 surveillance reform measure was defeated, Rep. Adam Schiff (D-Calif.), who now leads the impeachment inquiry against President Trump, gloated that Congress had avoided "a crippling requirement in national security and terrorism cases."

Like I said, it's professional wrestling for flabby people. When it counts—with civil liberties and the (un)trustworthiness of the state to handle its dangerous toys—there's little to distinguish leading Democrats from leading Republicans. Their major real disagreement is over who should be in charge of misusing and abusing those excessive powers. Ultimately, though, Democrats are happy to keep the surveillance state up and running and in the hands of a president they denounce as dangerous.

NEXT: Federal Indictment Says Deadly Houston Drug Raid Was Based on Lies From Start to Finish

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  1. So this is the Bill that all but 11 Republican Congressmen voted AGAINST?

    Yeah, same-same.

    1. On that note, the Patriot Act as far as domestic warrantless spying is an unconstitutional statute.

    2. Yep, that’d be the one. I guess Tucille didn’t notice that little point before the headline was drafted. Either that, or this site has a mandate to put a “but Trump and Republicans suck too” spin on every article.

  2. Odd that there was a very brief flap over Obama, on his way out the door, extending access to the NSA’s raw data to (IIRC) some 16 different agencies and yet no attempt to pull that back or even look into the question as to why Obama waited until the last minute before Trump took office to expand the surveillance powers of the Administrative State.

  3. How have they managed to keep this out of SCOTUS?

    It’s surprising more Americans are not p’d about this as they always re-auth so handily, but I guess they most willingly sell their liberty for this empty promise of security.

    1. More like: Most Americans are too busy with a two-earner family trying to pay their tax bill and get their kids through their Common Core tests to be aware of this mockery.

      1. After all, it’s not like NPR’s going to fill Sally Soccermom in on what’s going on. They’re too busy with wall-to-wall “Latineeeex” and impeachment coverage.

    2. To paraphrase that classic real estate agent, it’s survived on three things: standing, standing, standing!

      Basically, because of the ridiculous standard of standing that SCOTUS has previously established with regard to surveillance, you’d have to know (and be able to prove) that the specific surveillance authorized by the statute is responsible for some specific harm, and you’d have to be able to show that with crippled discovery rules thanks to “national security” (nevermind that the government isn’t required to prove that its unwarranted spying on you materially advanced national security in any meaningful way).

      More or less, SCOTUS from about back in aught three (I think?) took up a surveillance case that touched on the act specifically so they could punt it back down to appellate court with an opinion on standing and discovery in the new world. And that opinion amounts to “don’t bother us with the Patriot Act, we don’t feel like having to defend this unconstitutional mess in court but we’ll do it if you make us.”

      So your best bet for reform lies in Congress. God help us.

  4. Patriotic?

    Any law named the “Patriot Act” you know must be unpatriotic just as the Banking Secrecy Act really is the Banking Anti-Secrecy Act. Fourth Amendment, anyone? Oh yes, it’s dead.

    Consider the following excerpt from the recent novel, Retribution Fever:

    It was becoming clear that, in the context of law by Executive Order, the President was pursuing an increasingly tyrannical agenda with the vigor of the homicidal Soviet dictator, Joseph Stalin (aka/Iosif Vissarionovich Dzhugashvili; 1878-1953). Arrests without prior warrants of anyone suspected of anything had begun, citing the so-called Patriot Act of the Republican Bush the Second (b. 1946). Writs of habeas corpus were denied, a practice also begun under Bush the Second. Suspected opponents simply disappeared in the name of national security. Who might be next?
    As is often the case, the President unleashed tyranny in the name of “equality” and of “the people”, claiming protection of “the children and the vulnerable”. In fact, the official slogan repeated incessantly by flacks from the White House had become, “Equality equals freedom.” In truth, the slogan should have read, “Dependence equals slavery!”

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