They who can give up essential liberty to obtain a little temporary safety deserve neither liberty nor safety. ~ Benjamin Franklin
When I saw this article, my heart seemed to skip a beat. “Could it be true?” I wondered? From what I’ve read, it seems that it is. Two very bold Congressmen, Rep Mark Pocan (D-WI) and Rep Thomas Massie (R-KY) have introduced a Bill, the Surveillance State Repeal Act (H.R. 1466), that would effectively repeal the 2001 Patriot Act and severely curtail the powers of the US government to spy on it’s citizens. I wanted to get up and dance in my excitement. I didn’t, but I wanted to.
The Patriot Act was passed in a rush back in 2001 shortly after the attacks on 9/11 and both Congress and the nation were still reeling from shock of seeing the twin towers fall. As described by the DailyKos.com:
The bill was fast-tracked through Congress. It was introduced just over a month after 9/11 on October 23, 2001. It was passed by the House a day later on the 24th then by the Senate on the 25th. George W. Bush signed it on the 26th.
There was little dissent from Congress when this Bill was pushed through. There were 66 members of the House of Representatives and Sen Russ Feingold (D-WI) that voted against the Bill. President Obama, on the other hand, while serving as a Senator voted for the Bill back in 2001. Regrettably, he also renewed their provision in 2011. However, as time has passed, more opposition to the Patriot Act has grown in Congress. Sen Ron Wyden (D-OR), a member of the Intelligence Committee, made the folowing remark:
“I want to deliver a warning this afternoon: When the American people find out how their government has secretly interpreted the Patriot Act, they will be stunned and they will be angry,”
It is, without question a very controversial collection of laws. There are some who defend its creation and use and even believe that there is little to fear in the way of abuse of power:
The key to the PATRIOT Act is empowering government to do the right things while exercising oversight to prevent any abuse of authority. As long as lawmakers keep a vigilant eye on police authority, the federal courts remains open, and the debate about governmental conduct is a vibrant part of the American dialogue, the risk of excessive encroachment on our fundamental liberties is minimal.
As it turns out, this attitude was naive, as there are many documented cases of abuse and as we learned from whistleblower Edward Snowden, the NSA has been listening to American phone conversations and monitoring our emails. Even one of the authors of the Patriot Act felt the NSA went to far with it’s spying. Rep Jim Sensenbrenner (R-WI) said:
“I stand by the Patriot Act and support the specific targeting of terrorists by our government, but the proper balance has not been struck between civil rights and American security. A large, intrusive government — however benevolent it claims to be — is not immune from the simple truth that centralized power threatens liberty. Americans are increasingly wary that Washington is violating the privacy rights guaranteed to us by the Fourth Amendment.”
In addition, instead of backing off on domestic surveillance, according to the Washington Post, the FBI “wants to force online service providers to build wiretapping capabilities into their products.”
I will concede that in today’s world, privacy is mostly an illusion. This illusion grows dimmer as we see the entertainment industry pushing for mandatory spyware to be installed on every computer under the guise of protecting intellectual property and the increase in the use of domestic drones, both by the government and private citizens. Still, a repeal of the Patriot Act and the FISA amendments will go a long way in restoring the legal protection that Americans have a right to expect in our nation. This Bill (H.R 1466) has a long way to go if it is to become law (see video below for a very technical explanation of the process) but I suspect there will be a great deal of public support for the two Congressmen who are championing this legislation. In fact, vocal public support may be the key to their success, so if you think we should see an end to government abuse of privacy then take time to contact your Congressman. We still live in a democracy so use what power the Constitution gives you as a citizen and make your voice heard. And in case you think that I don’t take my own advice… this is the email I sent to my representative in Congress, Kyrsten Sinema.
Dear Congresswoman Sinema,
I am writing to you to let you know of my support for the Surveillance State Repeal Act (H.R. 1466) sponsored by Rep Mark Pocan and Rep Thomas Massie. I’ve long believed that Congress overstepped its bounds when it created and passed the PATRIOT ACT and if this Bill will finally rescind much of the authority the federal government was granted to enact warrantless surveillance and other violations of the 4th Amendment, I hope you, as my representative in Congress will do your best to support and vote for this legislation. Feel free to contact me in regard to this matter if you wish. Thank you for your attention to this matter.
To find your local representative in Congress, click here.