On Thursday the Senate Judiciary Committee voted to renew all of the powers granted to the U.S. government by the USA PATRIOT act - passed hastily in 2001 in the wake of the 9/11 terror attacks - that were set to expire by the end of this year.
The committee rejected changes that would have strengthened the protection of Americans' civil liberties and privacy while still retaining expanded power to conduct anti-terrorism investigations. They also voted to approve Republican-sponsored amendments - most of them recommended by the Obama administration - that removed remaining civil liberties protections left in the bill.Firedoglake blogger Marcy Wheeler has the most comprehensive coverage and analysis of everything having to do with the PATRIOT Act, including an annotated live blog of yesterday's proceedings. Highly recommended.
Here is a sampling of what disappointed civil liberties defenders had to say:
Leslie Harris, Center for Democracy and Technology (as quoted by PC World): "The administration deliberately took a wrong turn on civil liberties here... The administration even opposed civil liberties protections that President Obama sought as a senator."
Kevin Blankston, EFF: to everybody who voted "yes" on Thursday "and especially the Obama Administration: you let down the American people today, undermining our constitutional rights and endorsing a bill that doesn't do nearly enough to protect our privacy."
ACLU's Michael Macleod-Ball in a press release: "We are disappointed that further changes were not made to ensure Americans’ civil liberties would be adequately protected by this Patriot Act legislation. This truly was a missed opportunity for the Senate Judiciary Committee to right the wrongs of the Patriot Act and stand up for Americans’ Fourth Amendment rights. The meager improvements made during this markup will certainly be overshadowed by allowing so many horrible amendments to be added to an already weak bill. Congress cannot continue to make this mistake with the Patriot Act again and again. We urge the Senate to adopt amendments on the floor that will bring this bill in line with the Constitution."
CATO's Julian Sanchez on Twitter during the proceedings: "Soul slowly dying."
Democratic Senator Russ Feingold, who voted against Thursday's reauthorization bill, wrote a lengthy post on Daily Kos explaining why. A lengthy excerpt:
Before I get into the specific provisions that concern me, I want to say how disappointed I was in the debate in the committee. Today particularly, I started to feel as if too many members of the committee from both parties are willing to accept uncritically whatever the executive branch says about even the most reasonable proposed changes in the law. Of course we should consider the perspective of the FBI and the Justice Department. Keeping Americans safe is everyone’s priority. But we also need to consider a full range of perspectives and come to our own conclusions about how best to protect the American people and preserve their freedoms. Protecting the rights of innocent people should be a part of that equation. It's not the Prosecutors’ Committee; it's the Judiciary Committee. And whether the executive branch powers are overbroad is something we have to decide. The only people we should be deferring to are the American people, as we try to protect them from terrorism without infringing on their freedoms.He concludes:
I am also very troubled that administration officials have been taking positions behind closed doors that they are not taking publicly. I am pleased that we have not heard the type of public fear-mongering from this administration that was such a regular part of the discourse in the past. But if the administration wanted to further water down the already limited reforms in the bill that was on the table, they should have said so openly. Instead, at our only public hearing we were told that the Justice Department did not have positions on the crucial issues about to be discussed. Then, over the past week, in classified settings, the Department has weighed in against even some of the limited reforms that Sen. Leahy originally proposed. That led to the unusual spectacle today where many members of the committee based their decision to further weaken the bill on a classified briefing held yesterday, but could not fully discuss or debate their reasons. As a member of the Senate Intelligence Committee, I am privy to every bit of the classified information that was referred to today. And nothing presented in the classified briefings justifies the failure to address the real problems with the expiring Patriot Act provisions and other intrusive powers.
Furthermore, much of this debate is not about classified matters. Continuing to hide behind a veil of secrecy is not fair to Congress or to the American people.
Democrats have to decide if they are going to stand up for the rights of the American people or allow the FBI to write our laws. For me, that’s not a difficult choice.Next stop: the Senate Floor. For those readers who are American citizens, please contact your Senator and tell him or her to stand up for your rights.
Powered by ScribeFire.