A DECADE OF THE PATRIOT ACT: HOW HAS IT SERVED THE PEOPLE?

Posted: February 8, 2012 in by John Dilligent
Tags: , , ,

Where are we at ten years after the greatest treachery ever perpetrated on America?

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“Voice or no voice, the people can always be brought to the bidding of the leaders. That is easy enough. All you have to do is tell them they are being attacked, and denounce the pacifists for lack of patriotism and exposing the country to danger. It works the same in any country.”  — Herman Goering

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“When the American people find out about how their government has secretly interpreted the Patriot Act, they are going to be stunned and they are going to be angry.”  — Senator Ron Wyden

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The Patriot Act (the full name is the USA Patriot Act, or “Uniting and Strengthening America Act by Providing Appropriate Tools Required to Intercept and Obstruct Terrorism Act of 2001″) was enacted by the U.S. Congress on October 26, 2001, at the request of President George W. Bush in response to the terrorist acts of September 11.

It gives controversial new powers to the Justice Department in terms of domestic and international surveillance of American citizens and others within its jurisdiction. According to its sponsors, the Act was needed to address a situation that had not existed before – the presence of terrorists within our national borders – and the need to apprehend and prosecute them, hopefully before rather than after they acted.

Opponents of the Act, including the Electronic Frontier Foundation and the American Civil Liberties Union, say that the Act has undone previous checks on civil liberty abuses of the past and unnecessarily endangers privacy and discourages free speech.

Among the Act’s provisions, flowing out of the government’s ability to legally tap telephone lines in certain cases, is the ability to intercept Internet messages through its Carnivore program.

Theoretically, the government has the ability to intercept all messages that are “relevant to an ongoing criminal investigation,” a lower standard than the previous one in which a crime had to have been committed. The Act allows the guidelines to apply to all surveillance cases, not just those of suspected terrorists.

Some opponents allege that the Act was on the drawing boards prior to September 11. Many parties agree that the Act was rushed through Congress in a kneejerk reaction, and with a minimum of study, debate, discussion, and oversight.

In addition to the surveillance provisions, the Act includes sections related to money-laundering and immigration and also contains a section that condemns discrimination against Muslims and Arab-Americans.

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It Gets Better…

Most ominously, however, are the claims which have been made that entire sections of the Patriot Act are verbatim and identical to two of the most frightening laws in human history:

1)  The 1929 Bolshevik Communist Criminal Act  established Communist control in the age of Joseph Stalin. It created a security apparatchik unparalleled in its intrusion into the lives of ordinary, non-political families.

For enforcement, it created the Gulags, which quickly filled with intellectuals and dissidents, poets and hard luck Russian people who got caught in the wrong place at the wrong time. It was enough for a neighbor to point a finger secretly for that individual to disappear to the Siberian work camps for life. Secret charges, secret evidence, secret accusations figured prominently— same as in the Patriot Act.

Citing newly-available Soviet KGB documents, historian Dmitri Volkogonov, head of a special Russian parliamentary commission, recently concluded that “from 1929 to 1952 21.5 million Soviet people were repressed. Of these a third were shot, the rest sentenced to imprisonment, where many also died.”

And…

2)  Germany’s Enabling Act of 1933.  As comforting and innocuous as it sounds, the “Enabling Act” actually established the legal framework for Nazi Fascism.

The Enabling Law lay the parameters for the Third Reich of Adolph Hitler. The German word “Gestapo” is actually an acronym of GEheim STAdt POlezi. Translation: “Homeland Security.”

Whether or not the Patriot Act reads like these other infamous fascist documents paragraph for paragraph or clause for clause, laws establishing fascist control over the Soviet Union and Nazi Germany are replicated in the Patriot Act today. Like the iron fist of the Nazis and Communists, Americans must now submit to “roving surveillance” and warrantless searches, without the requirement for a judge’s authorization. Surveillance laws are part of a larger arsenal of weapons against political dissidents and whistle-blowers.

Most Americans still don’t know the Patriot Act authorizes secret charges relying on secret evidence and secret grand jury statements. Under the Patriot Act, Americans have no right to know who has accused them of what criminal activities, or the dates of the alleged offense. They’re not even told what law was broken. The government has power to lock up Americans on military bases or other prisons without a hearing or trial. We can be detained indefinitely without any rights of due process at all.

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The Shocking Truth About the USA PATRIOT Act and its Application to American Citizens at Large: a Must See !

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Ever Heard of the “Secret”  Patriot Act?

It Seems There Are Two : One We Know About, and One We Don’t…

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Much of the Patriot Act was a wish list of changes to surveillance law that Congress had previously rejected because of civil liberties concerns. When reintroduced as the Patriot Act after September 11th, those changes — and others — passed with only limited congressional debate.

Just what sort of powers does the Patriot Act grant law enforcement when it comes to surveillance and sidestepping due process? Here are three provisions of the Patriot Act that were sold to the American public as necessary anti-terrorism measures, but are now used in ways that infringe on ordinary citizens’ rights:

1)  Section 215: “Any Tangible Thing”

Under this provision, the FBI can obtain secret court orders for business records and other “tangible things” so long as the FBI says that the records are sought “for an authorized investigation . . . to protect against international terrorism or clandestine intelligence activities.” The Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court must issue the order if the FBI so certifies, even when there are no facts to back it up. These “things” can include basically anything—driver’s license records, hotel records, car-rental records, apartment-leasing records, credit card records, books, documents, Internet history, and more. Adding insult to injury, Section 215 orders come with a “gag ” prohibiting the recipient from telling anyone, ever, that they received one.

As the New York Times  reported, the government may now be using Section 215 orders to obtain “private information about people who have no link to a terrorism or espionage case.” The Justice Department has refused to disclose how they are interpreting the provision, but we do have some indication of how they are using Section 215. While not going into detail, Senator Mark Udall indicated the FBI believes it to allows them “unfettered” access to innocent Americans’ private data, like “a cellphone company’s phone records” in bulk form. The government’s use of these secret orders is sharply increasing — from 21 orders in 2009 to 96 orders in 2010, an increase of over 400% — and according to a brand new report from the Washington Post,  80% of those requests are for Internet records.

2)  National Security Letters

Among the most used — and outright frightening — provisions in the Patriot Act are those that enhanced so-called National Security Letters (NSLs). The FBI can issue NSLs itself, without a court order, and demand a variety of records, from phone records to bank account information to Internet activity. As with 215 orders, recipients are gagged from revealing the orders to anyone.

While NSLs existed prior to 2001, they were infrequently used. The Patriot Act lowered the standard making it easier for the FBI to use NSLs to obtain the records of innocent people with no direct link to terrorists or spies, and their use skyrocketed. According to the ACLU’s report on Patriot Act abuses, there were 8,500 NSLs issued in 2000 but approximately 192,000 issued between 2003-2006. All of these NSL’s led to one terror conviction, and in that case, the NSL wasn’t even needed.

Not surprisingly, FOIA requests have found abuse of their NSL authority: “mistakes” that led to getting information on the wrong people, ISPs handing over extra or wrong information, and dozens of “exigent letters” that “circumvented the law and violated FBI guidelines and policies.” The EFF has successfully challenged the NSL gag orders in multiple cases as unconstitutional under the First Amendment, but the overall scheme still survives to this day.

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3)  Sneak and Peek Warrants

Section 213 of the Patriot Act normalized “sneak and peek” warrants. These allow law enforcement to raid a suspect’s house without notifying the recipient of the seizure for months. These orders usually don’t authorize the government to actually seize any property — but that won’t stop them from poking around your computers. Again, sneak-and-peek warrants could be used for any  investigation, even if the crime was only a misdemeanor.

From 2006-2009, sneak-and-peek warrants were used a total of 1,755 times. Only fifteen of those cases—a microscopic 0.8%—involved terrorism. The rest were used in cases involving drugs or fraud.

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On the ten-year anniversary of the bill’s signing into law, the Electronic Frontier Foundation sued the Justice Department to turn over records related to the government’s secret interpretation and use of Section 215, regarding which Senator Ron Wyden, like Senator Udall, has offered ominous warnings: “When the American people find out about how their government has secretly interpreted the Patriot Act,”  said Wyden on the Senate floor in May, 2011, “they are going to be stunned and they are going to be angry.”

After ten years, it’s crystal clear that the “emergency measure” sold as a necessary step in the fight against terrorism, is being used routinely to violate the civil liberties of ordinary people in non-terrorism cases, threatening the Constitutional rights of every one of us.

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Some of the More Noteworthy Patriot Act Abuses: 2001-2011

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 Man Charged Under Patriot Act – Feds Admit Not A Terrorist!

NEWARK, N.J. — 2005: Federal authorities used the Patriot Act to charge David Banach, 38, with interfering with the operator of a mass transportation vehicle and making false statements to the FBI. He is the first person arrested after a recent rash of reports around the nation of lasers being beamed at airplanes.

If convicted, Banach could be sentenced to 25 years in prison and fined $500,000.

The FBI acknowledged the incident had no connection to terrorism but called Banach’s actions “foolhardy and negligent.”

Banach’s lawyer said his statements were given during several hours of questioning without an attorney present and that he was being harshly prosecuted because authorities were eager for an arrest.

“My client is in some ways a sacrificial lamb,”  attorney Gina Mendola-Longarzo said. “A message is being sent.”

Mendola-Longarzo said her client was simply using the hand-held device to look at stars with his daughter on the family’s deck. She said Banach bought the device on the Internet for $100 for his job testing fiber-optic cable. “He wasn’t trying to harm any person, any aircraft or anything like that,”  she said.

A month earlier, the FBI and the Homeland Security Department had sent a memo to law enforcement agencies saying there was evidence that terrorists have explored using lasers as weapons. But federal officials have said there is no evidence any the current incidents were part of a terrorist plot.

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In-Flight Confrontations Can Lead to Terrorism Charges

OKLAHOMA CITY AND LOS ANGELES — 2009: Tamera Jo Freeman was on a Fronteir Airlines flight to Denver in 2007 when her two children began to quarrel over the window shade and then spilled a Bloody Mary into her lap.

She spanked each of them on the thigh with three swats. It was a small incident, but one that in the heightened anxiety after the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks would eventually have enormous ramifications for Freeman and her children.

A flight attendant confronted Freeman, who responded by hurling a few profanities and throwing what remained of a can of tomato juice on the floor.

The incident aboard the Frontier flight ultimately led to Freeman’s arrest and conviction for a federal felony defined as an act of terrorism under the Patriot Act, the controversial federal law enacted after the 2001 attacks in New York and Washington.

“I had no idea I was breaking the law,”  said Freeman, 40, who spent three months in jail before pleading guilty.

Freeman is one of over 200 people on flights who have been convicted under the amended law. In most of the cases, there was no evidence that the passengers had attempted to hijack the airplane or physically attack any of the flight crew. Many have simply involved raised voices, foul language and drunken behavior.

Some security experts say the use of the law by airlines and their employees has run amok, criminalizing incidents that did not start out as a threat to public safety, much less an act of terrorism.

In one case, a couple was arrested after an argument with a flight attendant, who claimed the couple was engaged in “overt sexual activity” — an FBI affidavit said the two were “embracing, kissing and acting in a manner that made other passengers uncomfortable.”

“We have gone completely berserk on this issue,”  said Charles Slepian, a New York security consultant. “These are not threats to national security or threats to aircraft, but we use that as an excuse.”

Justice Department spokesman Dean Boyd defended the prosecutions, saying that they have helped improve airline security. He added that the department has only pursued prosecution “when the facts and circumstances of a particular case warrant such action.”

Indeed, the law has given airlines new flexibility to clamp down on unruly behavior. But the intent of the Patriot Act provisions was to put terrorists in violation of the law before they could execute an actual takeover, said Nathan Sales, a law professor at George Mason University who helped write the Patriot Act when he served in the Justice Department.

But Sales acknowledged that in the fervor to protect the skies, the practical application of the law has strayed.

“A woman spanking her child is not as great a threat to aviation as members of Al Qaeda with box cutters. That much is clear,”  he said.

For decades, airline personnel and law enforcement have had wide latitude in prosecuting unruly passengers, not only for assaults or threats but also for any behavior, including arguing, that disrupts a flight or “lessens the ability” of crew members to perform their jobs.

In practice, however, airlines have largely maintained order under Federal Aviation Administration rules, in which hundreds of unruly passengers are simply slapped with an infraction and fine each year.

According to FAA guidelines issued in 2007, “interference or intimidation of a crew member by itself is not chargeable under the [criminal] statute unless it rises to the level of physical assault, threatened physical assault or an act posing an imminent threat to the safety of the aircraft or other individuals on the aircraft.”

Sept. 11, however, changed everything. Within two months of the attacks, Congress passed the Patriot Act, a sweeping attempt to improve the nation’s defenses against international terrorism. It included broad new powers for law enforcement in such areas as electronic surveillance, money laundering and search warrants.

Included were two key provisions on airline security. The first defined disruptive behavior as a terrorist act, reflecting the seismic shift in airline security.

The second broadened the existing criminal law so that any attempt or conspiracy to interfere with a flight crew became a felony — a change that allowed flight personnel to act against suspicious passengers even if they hadn’t begun an actual assault.

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