Wednesday, October 28, 2009

Big Brother is Watching: Reauthorizing the Patriot Act

Here we go again, fellow Americans. The USA PATRIOT Act is currently undergoing debate by Congress. 

We all know what the original PATRIOT Act accomplished: mass arrests, searches and seizures, ethnic and religious profiling, secret evidence and deportations, effectively negated our Constitutional rights to free speech and association. Not to mention the breaking down of Constitutional firewalls, and violations of the First, Fourth, Fifth, Sixth, Eighth, and Fourteenth Amendments to the US Constitution. These precious liberties are directly threatened by an act passed in haste and without due consideration in an atmosphere of fear, mistrust, and revenge-seeking.

In brief, the USA PATRIOT Act (Patriot Act), Public Law 107-56, was enacted by Congress and signed by President Bush on October 26, 2001. PL107-56 provides expanded law enforcement authorities to enhance the federal government’s efforts to detect and deter acts of terrorism in the United States or against United States’ interests abroad. 

Although there have been some curbing of its powers since it was initially passed, an overview of the powers of the USA PATRIOT Act include:
- All but eliminates judicial supervision of telephone and Internet surveillance;
- Greatly expands the government’s ability to conduct secret searches;
- Chills constitutionally protected speech through overbroad definitions of “terrorism”; and
- Grants the FBI broad access to sensitive medical, mental health, financial and educational records about individuals without having to show evidence of a crime and without a court order.

Also, Federal Executive Orders, which:
- Establish secret military tribunals for suspects;
- Permit wiretapping of conversations between federal prisoners and their lawyers;
- Lift Justice Department regulations against illegal COINTELPRO-type operations by the FBI (covert activities that in the past targeted domestic groups and individuals); and
- Limit the disclosure of public documents and records under the Freedom of Information Act.
Additionally, on November 25, 2002, the President signed Public Law 107-296 that created a Department of Homeland Security. As of result of this law, on March 1, 2003, the Immigration and Naturalization Service (INS) moved from the DOJ to the newly created Department of Homeland Security (DHS).

On October 20, 2009, H.R. 3845, or the USA PATRIOT Amendments Act of 2009 was introduced by House Judiciary Committee Chairman John Conyers, Jr. (D-MI), Constitution, Civil Rights, and Civil Liberties Subcommittee Chairman Jerrold Nadler (D-NY), and Crime, Terrorism, and Homeland Security Subcommittee Chairman Bobby Scott (D-VA). These same committee leaders introduced the FISA Amendments Act of 2009 that seeks to amend the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act (FISA) that will safeguard the constitutional rights of Americans while ensuring that the government has the tools it needs to collect foreign intelligence.

Although the proposed revisions seek to amend and extend the sunsetting PATRIOT Act and related provisions originally established to combat terrorism, while enhancing the protection of Americans’ privacy and civil liberties, there still are some troubling provisions that need to be addressed which permit prosecutions of those who work to bring humanitarian aid to victims of conflict. Under the "material support" provision, these aid workers and the charities they are with can be prosecuted if they give any assistance whatsoever to one of these victims of conflict. How cockeyed and unjust is it that someone can go to jail--and be held in isolation, suffering all means of inhumane treatment--for simply providing a bandaid or a sip of water?!

This same ridiculous law allows the government to sift through an individual's electronic correspondence, their phone calls, bank accounts, where they travel, who they speak with, what books they read, or what websites they visit. All without evidence of any criminal activity or intent!!! Can you say "BIG BROTHER????"

I encourage each of you to write to your congressperson and ask them to fix this flawed Act. 

The law needs to be rewritten to ensure that the government can only obtain the telephone, internet, financial and other records of those who are CREDIBLE suspected terrorists or spies, not law-abiding Americans or immigrants. Additionally, the Federal Bureau of Investigation or Homeland Security should be required to provide REASONABLE notice when a suspect's home is searched. Moreover, Muslims should not be fearful of giving their Zakat to humanitarian causes, allowing those in need of food, medical services, or clean water to receive life-saving aid.

If you do not know how to contact your congressperson, or if you don't know who he/she is, please click here.


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