Yesterday a “bipartisan” group of Senators and advocacy groups announced an effort to amend the Patriot Act. This Washington Times story doesn’t say how many Senators are involved; the only ones mentioned are Dick Durbin, Russ Feingold and Larry Craig. The advocacy groups include the ACLU and the American Conservative Union.
The group held a press conference to announce their effort. Craig acknowledged that he “could not document any abuses of the Patriot Act since it was first enacted two years ago.” Craig said: “This has nothing to do with the current administration; it’s about putting into effect the right law.”
The specific changes the group wants to make include limiting the use of “sneak and peek” search warrants, which allow searches without notifying the target, to situations where a life is at stake, evidence may be destroyed or there is a flight risk. Hmmm….Isn’t it a little hard to think of a search warrant in a terrorism situation–which must be authorized by a court based on a showing by law enforcement authorities–where those conditions wouldn’t apply? Which makes me think this effort is more about grandstanding, and the favorable publicity which will inevitably result, than about securing our freedoms against possible abuse.
A second Patriot Act provision identified by the coalition is one that allows all of the phones used by a suspect to be tapped, not just a single line. This is a sensible measure that prevents terrorists from avoiding wiretaps by the simple expedient of changing cell phones–which terrorists, of course, do constantly. The group would limit the use of such wire taps to situations where the suspect is present. It is not clear, however, how the authorities are supposed to know that a terrorism suspect is “present” at a cell phone without listening to the conversation.
The bottom line on the Patriot Act is that it brings to the war against terrorism techniques which have long been approved when law enforcement is fighting organized crime. If we aren’t as serious about terrorism as about the Mafia, we are deluding ourselves.
The best line on the new coalition was by John Sununu, who pointed out how rarely Senators Durbin and Craig agree, and concluded their agreement on the proposed legislation could only mean one thing: “One of them has not read it.”
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