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The Patriot Act: bad medicine.

It's one thing to add a spoonful of sugar to make the medicine go down. But it's quite another to go to enormous lengths to convince a patient that the medicine itself is the sugar. Yet this is substantially what the Bush administration and its allies in the building of an imperial presidency did when they labeled their grasp for power "The Patriot Act."

The act's full name is "Uniting and Strengthening America by Providing Appropriate Tools Required to Intercept and Obstruct Terrorism Act of 2001." Rushed through Congress in the aftermath of the 9/11 terrorist attacks, it has long been touted as a necessary tool to prevent more attacks. Containing over 500 pages of detailed and lawyer-like verbiage, it is certain that no member had an opportunity to study it before being asked to approve it.

While no one can doubt that the federal government should have responded to the 9/11 treachery, the American people are beginning to realize that this piece of legislation poses a threat to our God-given freedoms protected by the U.S. Constitution. For instance, the act increases the ability of law enforcement to search homes and business records secretly; it expands wiretapping and surveillance authority; and it creates an entirely new mechanism for obtaining proper search warrants and then engaging in electronic snooping of email, telephone calls, and internet messaging. Under its provisions, persons ordered to turn over business records are not permitted to contact an attorney or seek the protection of the courts. Further, its provisions are far from clearly stated, giving almost free rein to federal officials to use the act and then rely on the courts to uphold the legitimacy of what they have done.

Those who wrote the act expected resistance to its sweeping grants of power, so they added a "sunset" provision stipulating that some of its surveillance powers "shall cease to have effect on December 31, 2005." President Bush wants the entire act extended but many in Congress, buttressed with years to study it and learn of its dangers to liberty, have seen enough and want to bury its extremely controversial portions. So, the compromisers took over. Prior to the December 31 expiration date Congress voted to extend the sunset provision five weeks, to February 3. On that date, some of the most intrusive surveillance powers in the bill--such as using "roving" wiretaps, searching property without notifying its owner, and scrutinizing business records, books, and other documents--will die, unless those powers are again extended or (as the president wants) are made permanent.

What's at stake here are provisions of the Bill of Rights. Do we or do we not have the Fourth Amendment's guarantee that all Americans shall "be secure in their persons, houses, papers, and effects against unreasonable searches and seizure"? Do we or don't we have assurance that such a God-given right "shall not be violated" without a warrant demonstrating "probable cause, supported by Oath of affirmation, and particularly describing the place to be searched, and the person or things to be seized"? Provisions of the Patriot Act now set to expire effectively cancel this essential guarantee.

President Bush has repeatedly insisted that all of the Patriot Act is needed because "we're still at war," a war he boastfully claims was launched on "my decision" and nobody else's. His disdain for the constitutional requirement that only Congress can send the nation into war, and his desire to trash the 4th Amendment, are indications of empire building, not limited government under the Constitution.

These developments surely threaten the preservation of freedom that has long characterized our nation's hard-won republic. No matter what Mr. Bush may claim, the main issue here isn't the protection of the American people from terrorism. Doing so can be accomplished without trampling on the Constitution. The issue is whether our national government will be properly limited or become all powerful.

Ominously growing presidential power must be reined in. An increasingly docile Congress can begin the needed process by refusing to extend the Patriot Act's most dangerous surveillance powers. Blocking their renewal will send a message to the president and his administration that they possess only limited powers and do not have a blank check to build an empire.
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Title Annotation:Uniting and Strengthening America by Providing Appropriate Tools Required to Intercept and Obstruct Terrorism Act of 2001
Author:McManus, John F.
Publication:The New American
Geographic Code:1USA
Date:Jan 23, 2006
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