A tempest is brewing over proposed amendments to the Patriot Act; the amendments, billed as “Patriot Act II,” are being worked on by Justice Department staff. Someone leaked a draft of the possible legislation to a left-wing front group called the Center for Public Integrity, which published it on its website. (I would link to the site, except that a banner headline by Matt Drudge has made the Center’s site inaccessible for the time being.) The Justice Department responded to the leak by saying that the draft is being worked on by staff, that no final decisions have been made, and the draft has not yet been presented to the Attorney General. Notwithstanding the fact that no legislation has yet been proposed, the leaked draft is being greeted with hysteria by the left–see, for example, Talk Left–and by condemnation from libertarians like Glenn Reynolds.
All of this seems wildly premature, but for what it is worth, I thought that the original Patriot Act was enirely reasonable and, with respect to many of its provisions, long overdue. (For example, prior to the Patriot Act, wiretap orders could only be obtained for specified telephone lines. This allowed easy circumvention by merely changing cell phones. The Patriot Act permits orders allowing all phone lines used by a particular person to be tapped.)
Due to the overwhelming traffic at the Center for Public Integrity’s site, I have not yet been able to read the draft amendments, but to the extent I have seen them summarized, it is hard to see what the fuss is about.
The left’s goal here, of course, is not to focus on any particular anti-terrorism efforts, or to engage in any serious discussion of how best to balance security and freedom from government intrusion. (This distinguishes leftists from responsible libertarians like Reynolds and many others.) What the left wants to do, through the hysterical repetition of “civil liberties” slogans, is to achieve political goals by demonizing John Ashcroft and George Bush. See, for example, the new advertising campaign just launched by the ACLU, which–in the ACLU’s own words–“paint[s] Ashcroft as a zealous ideologue who has hacked away at American civil liberties using post-September 11 concerns about national security as a pretext.” As usual, you can count on the ACLU for reasoned, constructive discourse.
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