Friday, July 22, 2005

Ashcroft Sends Flowers

Ashcroft Sends Flowers

Ashcroft Sends Flowers (2004)

Contrary to common belief even among the educated, Huxley and Orwell did not prophesy the same thing. Orwell warns that we will be overcome by an externally imposed oppression. But in Huxley's vision, no Big Brother is required to deprive people of their autonomy, maturity and history. As he saw it, people will come to love their oppression...
--Neil Postman, Amusing Ourselves to Death

John Ashcroft. Not gone. Not forgotten.

Yesterday, as fresh images of a new attack on London flickered on television screens, the House of Representatives voted overwhelmingly to extend Ashcroft's feral brainchild: the USA-PATRIOT Act. The House vote was 257-171. Forty-three Democrats voted to renew key provisions of the act that were set to expire in December of 2005.

Yesterday, Attorney General Alberto Gonzales was quick to note that there hasn't been one verified case of abuse of the PARTIOT Act (really?) and added that

the House has again provided the brave men and women of law enforcement with critical tools in their efforts to combat terrorism and protect the American people.

But who will protect us from our own protectors? The 4th Amendment which states

The right of the people to be secure in their persons, houses, papers, and effects, against unreasonable searches and seizures, shall not be violated, and no Warrants shall issue, but upon probable cause, supported by Oath or affirmation, and particularly describing the place to be searched, and the persons or things to be seized.

has long been our firewall. But the PATRIOT Act seems designed to hack away at our defenses and delete some our most precious freedoms. Since most of our elected representatives never bothered to read the act before rushing into law after 9-11, why not do yourself a favor and recap a few of the provisions your elected representatives just rubber stamped for ten more years?

Billmon at Whiskey Bar, sourcing the Sociatas blog, explains why the 4th Amendment could be in danger of being detained indefinitely if Section 215 is renewed. Billmon notes:

This is probably a good time to remind people what Section 215 gives the government the power to do:

    • Order any person or entity to turn over "any tangible things," so long as the FBI specifies that the order is part of an authorized terrorism or intelligence investigation.
    • Obtain personal data, including medical records, without any specific facts connecting those records to a foreign terrorist.
    • Prohibit doctors and insurance companies from disclosing to their patients that their medical records have been seized by the government.
    • Obtain library and book store records, including lists of books checked out, without any specific facts connecting the records to a foreign agent or terrorist.
    • Obtain private financial records without a court order, and without notification to the person involved.
    • Conduct intelligence investigations of both United States citizens and permanent residents without probable cause, or even reasonable grounds to believe that they are engaged in criminal activity or are agents of a foreign power.
    • Investigate U.S. citizens based in part on their exercise of their First Amendment rights, and non-citizens based solely on their exercise of those rights. (Naturally, decisions about what constitutes "in part" are left to a secret court, meeting secretly.)
    • Those served with Section 215 orders are prohibited from disclosing that fact to anyone -- even their attorney. (This provision was struck down by a U.S. district court last year.)

Section 213 of PATRIOT, meanwhile, allows federal agents to:

    • Conduct secret “sneak and peek” searches of your home.
    • Enter your home or office and seize items for an indefinite period of time, without informing you that a warrant has been issued.

And Section 216 lets the feds:

    • Seize records that could show the subject lines of your e-mails and the details of your Web surfing habits.

Billmon adds:

Just to highlight what an Orwellian witch's brew the Patriot Act has turned into, consider that while the Cheney administration claims Section 215 has never been used to search or seize library records, a 2002 survey of librarians found that almost half of them reported being visited by federal or local law enforcement agents demanding access to patron records.

Confronted with these results, the Justice Department insisted the vast majority of those visits were related to criminal investigations, but refused to disclose how many were terror-related, saying that information was (you guessed it) classified.

So are you feeling safer? Or were all of us bitch slapped (again) by a thug administration using catapulted fear to keep tabs on nearly every aspect of our lives?

Ashcroft, when he wasn't obsessing about losing an election to a dead man and covering the exposed breasts of statues, had this to say about the initial PATRIOT Act:

The Patriot Act is al-Qaida's worst nightmare.

Funny thing about nightmares. They are like art -- subjective. When Ashcroft rolled his PATRIOT Act Roadshow through Cambridge in 2003, city councilor Brian Murphy made the following remarks:

John Ashcroft must know he should be ashamed of himself. That's why he's skulking into town, not speaking to the people, and sneaking out of town. If Ashcroft stayed and walked the Freedom Trail, he could see the Old State House where in 1761 James Otis spoke out against the Writs of Assistance -- essentially open-ended search warrants that allowed customs officers to search wherever they pleased. Otis said “A man's home is his castle, and whilst he is quiet, he is as well guarded as a prince in his castle. This writ, if it is declared legal, would totally annihilate this privilege. Custom house office may enter our houses when they please and we are commanded to permit their entry. Their menial servants may enter, may break locks, bars and everything in their way; and whether they break through malice or revenge, no man, no court can inquire. Bare suspicion without oath is sufficient.”

John Ashcroft is nothing but a modern day Tory stealing the very rights our forefathers fought and died for. His Patriot Act is a 21st century writ of assistance. And just like James Otis 242 years ago, we in Boston must stand up against this tyranny.

This issue has me primed to toss some tea overboard. How about you? Or, are you thinking instead, now that our lives are open books and we're serfs in our own castles, how simple -- and even mundane -- it would be to have us both terrorism-tagged...and then quietly disappeared?


Thom H said...

Not over yet.

Please consider the following at Shakespeare's Sister, The Patriot Act reauthorization: Don't let "Common Dreams" lead to mistaken assumptions.

Bottom line: two opportunities remain to improve the Patriot Act -- to restore checks and balances.

Thank you.

cruelanimal said...


You're right, of course. If you read my post carefully, you'll see I was only responding to the actions taken by the House of Representatives.

I never implied that reauthorization is a given -- only to show the seriousness of what is at stake.

I'd urge readers to follow the link Thom has provided to learn more about the specifics of the opportunities he mentions -- and about avenues to provide some restaint on some of the provisions.

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