Limitations on Police Power Shouldn't Be a Partisan Issue

In response to my op ed last week, the Minneapolis Star Tribune published this letter:

THE PATRIOT ACT

Where are the abuses?

The Nov. 22 commentary "The erosion of freedom" is yet another example of how liberal hysteria is conspicuously light on details.

While the Patriot Act may allow for potential abuses of power, flaws undoubtedly to be fine-tuned over time, the "erosion of freedom" it may foster absolutely pales in comparison to the freedom it is designed to protect in the new age of global terrorism.

I have yet to read of one incident of infringement of any private citizen's rights as a direct result of the Patriot Act -- nor does this commentary point out any, either.

While I'm a firm believer in the Fourth Amendment, I also want our law enforcement to have the legal tools necessary, unfettered by restrictions to counter liberals' paranoid fixation on "fascism," in order to combat the threat that terrorism has on all our freedoms.

I have enough trust in our free democratic society and the coequal branches of government that we won't evolve into a sinister "police state," as ominously predicted by this commentary.

CHRIS GARDNER, MINNEAPOLIS

Two things strike me in this letter. The first is his "I have yet to read of one incident of infringement of any private citizen's rights as a direct result of the Patriot Act...." line. It's just odd. A simple Googling of "patriot act abuses" comes up with almost 3 million hits, many of them pretty extensive descriptions of Patriot Act abuses. Now, he could decide that none of them are abuses. He could choose not to believe any of them are true. He could choose to believe, as he seems to, that it's all in some liberal fantasy. But to simply not even bother reading about them...isn't he just admitting that he's not qualified to have an opinion on the matter? (There's also that "direct result" weaseling, which I'm not sure what to make of either. Are infringements that are an indirect result of the Patriot Act somehow better?)

I suppose that's just being petty, though.

The more important thing that strikes me is how partisan he is. He writes about "liberal hysteria" and "liberals' paranoid fixation on 'fascism.'" In his last paragraph, he writes about his trust in government.

Most laws don't matter when we all trust each other. Contracts are rarely if ever looked at if the parties trust each other. The whole point of laws and contracts is to protect us when the parties don't trust each other. It's not enough that this guy, and everyone else with this opinion, trusts the Bush government to judiciously balance his rights with the need to fight global terrorism. This guy has to believe that when the Democrats are in power that his rights are just as protected: that he is just as secure against police and government abuse.

Because that's how you should think about laws, contracts, and government power. When reading through a contract, don't think about how much you like the other person who's signing it; imagine how the contract will protect you if you become enemies. When thinking about a law, imagine how it will protect you when your worst nightmare -- Hillary Clinton as President, Janet Reno as Attorney General, Howard Dean as something-or-other, and a Democratic Senate and House -- is in power.

Laws and contracts are not written for one political party, or for one side. They're written for everybody. History teaches us this lesson again and again. In the United States, the Bill of Rights was opposed on the grounds that it wasn't necessary; the Alien and Sedition Act of 1798 proved that it was, only nine years later.

It makes no sense to me that this is a partisan issue.

Posted on December 2, 2005 at 6:11 AM • 55 Comments

Comments

ÉibhearDecember 2, 2005 6:56 AM

Hi Bruce,

Would you consider using the Minneapolis Star Tribune letters page to reply to the letter? It's more than possible that Mr. Gardner won't know of your response here, and nearly as much possible that he doesn't use a computer and therefore knows little of Google and the power of the internet. Whether he cares is an altogether different proposition.
I find newspapers' letters pages to be a quite good source of debate, especially for the non-blog reading public and the readers of the Star Tribune might very well appreciate the weight of your response.

Éibhear

A. ReaderDecember 2, 2005 7:13 AM

Hmmm, I'm a dyed-in-the-wool conservative but the PATRIOT act is one of the few places the ACLU and I find common cause.
Mr. Gardner's thoughts reminds me of the perennial sociology student project in the US during the Vietnam-era which was to go door-to-door with the text of the Bill of Rights to see if people would vote for them (yes I know -- it was poor suvey design and the samples were highly biased but it was an undergrad project). Usual finding was that a surprising number both did not recognize them and would not vote in support of them.

Philip StorryDecember 2, 2005 7:16 AM

A sad sign of the times in which we live...

I just put some keywords into Google, to check that this wasn't a stock letter sent to many different newspapers, in an astroturfing campaign.

We sometimes say that if terrorism changes our behaviour drastically or makes up give up our liberties, then we've let terrorism win.

I feel like I just let partisan politics win...

*sighs*

Tim VailDecember 2, 2005 7:24 AM

Eh, nothing should really be partisan. I hate seeing how at the hint that someone might be liberal, conservatives get all worked up. Same with conservatives when dealing with liberals.

I consider myself conservative. However, I'm in agreement about the issue of freedom, and that we need to tone down the Patriot Act.

alabamatoyDecember 2, 2005 7:30 AM

"When thinking about a law, imagine how it will protect you when your worst nightmare ... is in power." Gad, I nearly puked up my coffee just considering that scenario.

As Fox Mulder said, "Trust no one."

ARLDecember 2, 2005 7:34 AM

To be fair a quick run of the google link provided did not return anything solid on abuse within the top listings. Claims were there, but little proof. Lots of smoke, little fire.

Law enforcement does need additional tools to fight what has become the defacto standard for political and social change: terrorism. But we need to give them the right tools and not at a higher cost to our freedoms.

The "act" needs to be broken up into smaller pieces and each evaluated for its true cost and benefit. Hiding bad ideas in with one or two good ones seems to be an art from with congress.

Warrentless searches just need to go away, period. There are plenty of judges in this country and most, if not all will issue a warrant appropriate to the needs of law enforcement when presented proper facts.

Delores QuadeDecember 2, 2005 7:52 AM

@ Phillip

"A sad sign of the times in which we live...

We sometimes say that if terrorism changes our behaviour drastically or makes up give up our liberties, then we've let terrorism win.

I feel like I just let partisan politics win..."

:-( It _is_ sad... I hate hate the territorial pissing and never-ending stream of corruption in our World, the most.

I just watched a 1951 movie last night "The Day the Earth Stood Still" which was based on a book titled "Farewell to the Master" by Harry Bates. Not sure if you've seen/heard of it, but I never had until a night or two ago.

Basically, after the Atomic Bomb fiasco (in my opinion it was a fiasco because it upset the order of the Universe "temporarily") .. an "alien" (Klaatu - Michael Rennie) lands and tells the people of Earth that we must live peacefully or be destroyed as a danger to other planets.

I later learned on imdb.com that "Although he was already signed to play the Einstein-like Professor Barnhardt, the studio wanted to remove Sam Jaffe as a result of the political witch hunts that were then underway. Producer Julian Blaustein appealed to studio chief Darryl F. Zanuck. Zanuck allowed Jaffe to play the role, but it would be Jaffe's last Hollywood film until the late 1950s."

Some quotes I was happy with from the movie:

Klaatu: We do not claim to have achieved perfection, but we have a system, and it works.

Klaatu: I am fearful when I see people substituting fear for reason.

Klaatu: There must be security for all, or no one is secure. This does not mean giving up any freedom, except the freedom to act irresponsibly.

Klaatu: I came here to give you these facts. It is no concern of ours how you run your own planet. But if you threaten to extend your violence, this Earth of yours will be reduced to a burned-out cinder.

Klaatu: You have faith, Professor Barnhardt?
Barnhardt: It isn't faith that makes good science Mr. Klaatu, it's curiosity. Sit down, please. There are several thousand questions I'd like to ask you.

Barnhardt: One thing Mr. Klaatu, Suppose this group should reject your proposals. What is the alternative?
Klaatu: I'm afraid there is no alternative. In such a case, the planet Earth would have to be... eliminated
Barnhardt: Such power exists?
Klaatu: I assure you, such power exists.

One scene was cut from the movie before it was released. The original script called for Klaatu to be taken to a police station by the government man who came for him at the boarding house, not directly to Barnhart's home. At the station, men were being dragged in from all over and questioned, and Klaatu becomes upset when he sees how a man was beaten up by some people because they thought he was the space man. They cut the scene because director Robert Wise realized that the audience was interested in the Klaatu/Barnhart meeting and the scene at the police station was unnecessary, but on the DVD there are stills from that cut scene.

Don't know how this will help our "sad state of affairs".

I guess I just felt like talking about it when I read your post.

dq.

dlgDecember 2, 2005 8:08 AM

There are two kinds of persons, I will call these authotitarian and libertarian (without connotations attached).

These groups assume different threat models:
Authoritarians think threats to their style of living come mostly from outside their society, for example from criminals, "terrorists", etc.
Libertarians are traditionally more wary of "the state" and perceive the police, the administration, etc. as a threat.
It is clear that assuming the authoritarian threat model, restrictions to police power make me less safe and should be avoided. Assuming the liberal one, it is the other way around.

I agree that "limitations on police power" _should_ not be a partisan issue. Unfortunately, they _are_, as a matter of fact. The reason is simply statistical. Even though there is nothing inherently partisan to these different threat models, they happen to correlate well with voting habits. The roots of this fact are historical and sociological, its explanation is quite straightforward if you think about it (The extremely simplified model: money->fear of burglars, no money and minority->fear of police power abuse, no chance of a good lawyer. Mr. Cheney can be certain he will never be tortured by the CIA, Mr. Al Rhashid from the store around the corner can't). Of course, as political parties cater to the needs and worries of their voters, the mere fact that there is this correlation makes the issue a partisan one.

I also agree that everybody should be concerned about putting checks and balances to police power. However, consequently using the authoritarian threat model, this is simply not true.
The matter is not so much that these people trust the _current_ government, but rather that they don't perceive government (any) as a threat.

Roy OwensDecember 2, 2005 8:08 AM

If a party to the contract will not trust the enforcement of the contract, then the content of the contract is irrelevant.

Delores QuadeDecember 2, 2005 8:19 AM

@ Roy

"If a party to the contract will not trust the enforcement of the contract, then the content of the contract is irrelevant."

This is great! :-) I seriously think we're on to something here Roy (and others) - let's re-write everything like a Dr. Seuss Rap Song (minus the haiku - it's just too complicated for most and leaves too much room for error in politicks and regulation) and deliver it via a Country Music Video across all the Nations by borrowing Googles Satellite Rings! Maybe we can both star in it.

dq.

John SurcombeDecember 2, 2005 9:17 AM

I think a refutation of the first point of this letter needs something stronger than an appeal to the authority of a Google search. That approach is redolent of the kind of argument that might be used by a Ufologist: "A search on Google for 'alien abduction' turns up nearly 4 million results, many of which are extensively documented."

nateDecember 2, 2005 10:16 AM

@ Bruce:

Although I agree with most of your views on the Patriot Act, your 'argumentum ad googlum' doesn't make for a very strong case. For example, the first result in that search concentrates on immigrants being beaten while in detention. While deplorable, I presume that this behaviour is not made legal by the Patriot Act. Is this what you mean by 'direct-result weaseling'?

Could you could highlight some abuses that you feel Mr. Gardner would definitely agree with if he knew about?

Chris WalshDecember 2, 2005 10:17 AM

@John Surcombe:

The DoJ itself provided much of the recent ammunition used in arguments against renewing USA PATRIOT.

Read washingtontimes.com/national/20030615-123422-5163r.htm
for examples provided by the DoJ about how USA PATRIOT has been used.

They include:

•One of the 15 requests to seize material without notifying the owners was refused. A court ruled photographs of items in storage would suffice, so seizure was unjustified.
•Justice refused to say how many persons were detained as "material witnesses" or identify any, but said that as of January the total was "fewer than 50" and that most were freed in less than 90 days.
•Six hundred accounts encompassing $124 million in assets were frozen and 70 "terrorist financing" investigations led to 23 convictions or guilty pleas.
•Information obtained from computer-service providers was used in investigations unrelated to foreign terrorism. They included a kidnaping, a bomb threat against a school, a hacker who extorted his victim, and a lawyer who defrauded clients.
•The FBI hired 264 translators "to support counterterrorism efforts," including 121 Arabic speakers and 25 who speak Farsi.
•Telephone voicemails were obtained through search warrants rather than wiretap orders "in a variety of criminal cases ... [including] foreign and domestic terrorists." The law also opens to seizure e-mail stored on a provider's server.
•Pen-register devices that record strokes on a telephone keypad or a computer keyboard identified conspirators in the murder of Wall Street Journal reporter Daniel Pearl.
•More than 8.4 million FBI files were provided to the State Department, and 83,000 records on wanted persons went to the Immigration and Naturalization Service along with data on detainees held in Afghanistan, Pakistan and Guantanamo Bay, Cuba.

This material isn't some quack alien visitor nonsense, even though Google provided the reference. It is DoJ testimony as reported in what is arguably a newspaper rather unlikely to take a "liberal" editorial slant.

By your reasoning, I should discount the veracity of Origin of Species by virtue of the fact that both it and Chariots of the Gods are found in my public library.

Benjamin FranklinDecember 2, 2005 10:32 AM

"They who would give up an essential liberty for temporary security, deserve neither liberty or security"

antimediaDecember 2, 2005 10:49 AM

One of the first hits in your Google search is Wikipedia, which lists alleged abuses of the Patriot Act - http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/...

When you read through the alleged abuses, there's a lot of claims made but very little evidence to back them up.

The "state" has had the same powers they received in the Patriot Act with regard to domestic criminal activity for quite some time. The Patriot Act extends those powers to investigations of terrorism.

Will there be abuses? Of course there will. There are always those who abuse their government power. But the mere threat of abuse does not argue against the need for a law any more than the possibility of a crash precludes driving a car.

I wonder how many have even bothered to read the Patriot Act and know what it says (as opposed to taking the word of someone whose opinions they already agree with.

jammitDecember 2, 2005 10:55 AM

@Benjamin Franklin
Given what the majority voted for, it seems the people want neither.

Pat CahalanDecember 2, 2005 11:13 AM

Re: arguing ad googlum

I think Bruce's point was more to the effect of, "He claims there are no reports of abuses. I claim that there are nontrivial examples of abuses, and offer a method for him to find some."

It's a little lazy on Bruce's part, but he's not engaged in a Lincoln-Douglas debate here, so the rules of evidence can be bent.

I think we can all agree that there are a great many overblown examples of Patriot Act abuses, but I think we can all similarly agree that there are several well-documented accounts of Patriot Act abuses, and Bruce's point was that Mr. Gardner was simply choosing to ignore that this is the case.

After all, the main thrust of the top post was, "Security should not be a partisan issue, and this guy is obviously partisan" (I think we can all agree that Mr. Gardner is partisan).

R GuessDecember 2, 2005 11:45 AM

Anyone who resorts to such simplistic views and name-calling is almost not worth acknowledging. The reason we must address these views is that there seems to be an epidemic of ignorance and extremism. If we allow these views to stand unrebutted, we fail in our responsibilities as members of this democratic republic.

I fear for the future of our country not so much because of the PATRIOT Act but because of the attitude that we can sacrifice a little bit our consitutional virtue and somehow retain our character as a nation. This is not possible.

The traditional, consitutional process for issuing warrants does not needlessly impede investigations. Law enforcement officers are able to contact a judge to issue a warrant at any time, even at 2am on a Sunday if the situation is dire.

It is important to understand the historical context of the fourth amendment. The administrative warrants issued under the terms of the PATRIOT Act smell like the "writs of assistance" used to supress and intimidate the colonists who would one day found these United States.

Findlaw has some great notes on the formation and establishment of the Fourth Amendment for those who may be interested.

Davi OttenheimerDecember 2, 2005 11:48 AM

@ antimedia

Good question. And how many people take the advice of their doctor, lawyer, dentist, etc. instead of becoming a professional themselves?

On what grounds can you ever trust someone's opinon?

On the other hand, you don't need to be a certified Ford mechanic to know that a Pinto will burst into flames or an Explorer will blow a tire, right? Sometimes you do not need to be a lawyer to know that your rights have been violated or that your family is in danger.

Section 215 of the Patriot Act is pretty clear, it seems to me, whether you read it yourself or you just agree with the (more than 150) US cities and states that have passed resolutions that oppose the Patriot Act.

Moreover, if you work in security, you look for checks and balances, or even clear controls, rather than carte blanche authority. For example, Slate writes that "third-party holders of your financial, library, travel, video rental, phone, medical, church, synagogue, and mosque records can be searched without your knowledge or consent, providing the government says it's trying to protect against terrorism".

http://www.slate.com/id/2087984/

The full text is available here:

http://www.epic.org/privacy/terrorism/hr3162.html

Have you read it?

Here's the Attorney General's side of the story:

http://www.lifeandliberty.gov/...

"Section 215 allows the FISA court to order the production of business records and other items, in the context of a national security investigation, to obtain foreign intelligence information not concerning a U.S. person; or to protect against international terrorism or clandestine intelligence activities. Section 215 cannot be used to investigate ordinary crimes or domestic terrorism, and it is expressly provided that the FBI cannot conduct an investigation on a U.S. citizen solely on the basis of activities protected by the First Amendment.

Federal judges have reviewed and granted the Department’s request for a section 215 order 35 times as of March 30, 2005. To date, the provision has only been used to obtain driver’s license records, public accommodations records, apartment leasing records, credit card records, and subscriber information-such as names and addresses-for telephone numbers captured through court-authorized pen registers. The Department has not obtained a section 215 order to obtain library or bookstore records, medical records, or gun sale records."

Anyone know what would happen if they did try to obtain those records they say they have not (yet)?

ImpoliticDecember 2, 2005 12:08 PM

@CHRIS GARDNER

>The Nov. 22 commentary "The
>erosion of freedom" is yet
>another example of how liberal
>hysteria is conspicuously light
>on details.

Why are "liberals" the only ones under a burden of proof?

One could just as easily say that Gardner's "conservative hysteria" is conspicuously light on details.

Where is the demonstrated need for granting more police powers? Where are the failures to obtain search warrants, wire-taps, communications intercepts, etc. that inevitably lead to a terrorist act (or any other crime) being committed?

That is, point to the examples where the existing pre-9/11 laws would have blocked police actions, and where the USA PATRIOT act now allows them. And remember that mere fears and paranoid fixations are not sufficient as evidence.

In fact, the evidence is that the FBI had plenty of information on foreign nationals enrolled in flight schools and acting suspiciously, all BEFORE 9/11. The problem wasn't that the FBI couldn't get this information. The problem was that the leadership didn't pay attention to it. Now they know better. But did we really have to induce this new alertness by giving them more intrusive powers, or should we just have held them to the same level of accountability as before 9/11, but focused on different things?

When it comes to the USA PATRIOT Act, I'm most concerned about the secrecy provisions. Secrecy is a gateway to unaccountability, and that leads to CYA behavior, as well as opening the door to more serious abuses. It's unaccountability that is most troubling. Remember Ronald Reagan's favorite Russian proverb, "Trust, but verify".

ZwackDecember 2, 2005 12:09 PM

"I have yet to read of one incident of infringement of any private citizen's rights as a direct result of the Patriot Act -- nor does this commentary point out any, either."

Given that the PATRIOT USA Act makes "vanishing" people under certain circumstances legal... (non-citizens can be held indefinitely without anyone being informed of their whereabouts) why would you necessarily hear about any abuses? Of course he used the phrase "citizen" so I guess that doesn't count. Of course the Constitution doesn't make that distinction in the fifth amendment...

" No person shall be ... deprived of life, liberty, or property, without due process of law..."

While not part of the PATRIOT USA act, the use of gag orders which are being used for various purposes seem to be a direct violation of the First amendment. See http://www.nybooks.com/articles/18550 for one case where a gag order was used to suppress information.

Z.

RvnPhnxDecember 2, 2005 12:57 PM

@all
WAKE UP DAMNIT!
Don't you get it! The point of that odious PATRIOT Act was to prevent there from being an audit trail to begin with. That alone is enough argument that it is being abused. Would you trust somebody bigger than you whom asked you to keep "our little secret" quiet?

Captain ZomboDecember 2, 2005 2:54 PM

Using Google hit counts to substantiate an argument against the Patriot Act is ridiculous. If you run a search for "easter bunny," Google replies with over 2 million references (including images). The reference count to "patriot act abuses" doesn't make it any more real than the Easter Bunny.

While I am not a fan of the Patriot Act, much of the caterwauling against it significantly rooted in hatred of the Bush administration. I would love to see some real debate that addresses the issues, but I rather doubt that's even possible given the current climate of the debate.

We live in a world where technology has enabled the disaffected to kill tens of thousands with chemical and biological weapons. Those weapons can be assembled with knowledge that any decent grad student in chemistry and biology would achieve through the normal course of their studies. Law enforcement needs new tools to combat this issue. The Patriot Act was an awkward first attempt.

It's unfortunate that you couldn't offer any constructive criticism that could help move the debate forward.

Koray CanDecember 2, 2005 3:08 PM

@ Captain Zombo
Nobody is using the number of google hits to prove that there has been abuse. They are being used to prove that there have been "reports" (accurate or not) of such abuse.


You have to realize how bold a claim it is to say that there has been absolutely no reports. It just shows ignorance. Whether or not any of the reports are accurate is another research subject.

AnonymousDecember 2, 2005 4:10 PM

It's ridiculous that these fellows call themselves Republicans. They're Federalists in the worst way.

AnonymousDecember 2, 2005 4:25 PM

Yep, the point of google search is that CHRIS GARDNER says "I have yet to read of one incident of infringement of any private citizen's rights as a direct result of the Patriot Act", and Bruce notes that with simple google search he can get a lot of reading on the subject.

NickDecember 2, 2005 4:36 PM

My dislike of USA-PATRIOT has nothing to do with the Bush Administration; I'd feel the same way if this had been done under Clinton, Gore, or Kerry. I have written to my Senators and Congressman voicing my concerns on their views and votes on the floor - and they're all Democrats.

USA-PATRIOT would be unpalatable under any administration. No one is rejecting the idea that we can make law enforcement more capable in regards to domestic terrorism. It's the manner in which the Act was prepared and made law - with our legislators failing to read it thoroughly, or fearing to be seen as unpatriotic.

A nifty acronym does not make for superior security.

If we can't get over this fixation of terrorists hiding under the bed - that is, looking for, prosecuting, and preventing a threat that does not exist - then we'll never achieve success.

FoxyshadisDecember 2, 2005 5:22 PM

It's a newspaper letters column. Half of them are just replies to columns, editorials, and other letters, calling them liberal/conservative propoganda fed by a communist/fascist editorial board and the writers babykillers/demons. I don't see why there's any reason to get worked up over the real world's equivalent to political blogs' comment sections.

Davi OttenheimerDecember 2, 2005 5:30 PM

"It makes no sense to me that this is a partisan issue."

Perhaps that's because you're not a partisan?

I thought your response to the letter was excellent, BTW.

ConcernedDecember 2, 2005 5:51 PM

As a conservative and a Republican voter, I'm greatly alarmed by events taking place in our government, and even more troubled why conservatives are content to let it happen. Whatever happened to believing in checks and balances? Where did the healthy skepticism of those in power go? Why don't conservatives believe that liberty is the ultimate ideal anymore?

An American hero once said:

"But you must remember, my fellow-citizens, that eternal vigilance by the people is the price of liberty, and that you must pay the price if you wish to secure the blessing. It behooves you, therefore, to be watchful in your States as well as in the Federal Government." – Andrew Jackson

This is what being an American, whether liberal or conservative, should be about. Our founding fathers shed their blood so they could be rid of King George’s tyranny. They would have rather died than lose their freedom. How do we know that can’t happen again?

To all you true patriots out there: sometimes being a patriot means standing up to your OWN government.

I believe John Stossel from 20/20 put it best: "Patrick Henry did not say, 'Give me total security or give me death!'"

Anonymous HowardDecember 2, 2005 5:58 PM

Note to self: don't use Google search in argument, due to inevitable Easter Bunny reference.
Countdown to inevitable Hitler reference: ~4 posts.

Sometimes it seems like we learn nothing. Joe McCarthy, witch hunts, boogeymen, etc. PATRIOT is an Orwellian nightmare. Anyone who thinks otherwise is either stupid or working with O'Brien.

Our elected representatives have forgotten that their job is to represent their constituents (some of whom may not have voted for them), not amass political capital, curry popular favor, or bring home corporate pork. Less politics, more governing. What elected representative would EVER give an independent body (FBI) the unfettered right to spy on his constituents? WHO DO YOU WORK FOR?

"When you cannot understand a curious matter, ask yourself, 'Whom? Whom does this benefit?'��? -Lenin

RichDecember 2, 2005 6:57 PM

I wonder if Chris Gardner would prefer Marcus Ranum's opinions of PATRIOT to those of 'hysterical Bruce'.

Mark J.December 2, 2005 9:17 PM

@ Captain Zombo

"We live in a world where technology has enabled the disaffected to kill tens of thousands with chemical and biological weapons. Those weapons can be assembled with knowledge that any decent grad student in chemistry and biology would achieve through the normal course of their studies."

None of this is true or there would be tens of thousands of dead people. There are plenty of "disaffected" people with degrees in chemistry and/or biology. If it's so easy to come up with such a weapon, why haven't they?

Talk about a lack of constructive criticism.

RyanDecember 2, 2005 9:57 PM

your google search is flawed, you can google patriot act sex and get 2 million results, yet I doubt many of those articles are about the patriot act reproducing. You should search for "patriot act abuses" which returns a pathetic 10 thousand results.

NopeDecember 2, 2005 11:07 PM

It is just that Chris Gardner has never been screwed over by someone(s) empowered by something as flawed as the Patriot Act.

Absolute power corrupts absolutely.

Davi OttenheimerDecember 2, 2005 11:18 PM

@ Ryan

Funny and a good point. In addition, how do you account for the duplication, for example, if one Patriot Act abuse case is reported in 10,000 blogs?

Anyway, your comment prompted me to fish around for at least one tangible case of infringement and I found this:

http://reviewjournal.printthis.clickability.com/...

"The investigation of strip club owner Michael Galardi and numerous politicians appears to be the first time federal authorities have used the Patriot Act in a public corruption probe.

[...]

The investigation of strip club owner Michael Galardi and numerous politicians appears to be the first time federal authorities have used the Patriot Act in a public corruption probe.

[...]

That source said the subpoena appeared to be a search for hidden proceeds that could be used as evidence of bribery. A source also indicated that records on Las Vegas City Councilman Michael Mack were sought.

[...]

Sources said the FBI sought the records under Section 314 of the act. That section allows federal investigators to obtain information from any financial institution regarding the accounts of people 'engaged in or reasonably suspected, based on credible evidence, of engaging in terrorist acts or money laundering activities.'"

That story led me (596 hits for Michael Galardi Patriot Act) to the case of the guy who was shining laser-pointers at aircraft. Turns out the Patriot Act was used on him as well:

http://www.warblogging.com/archives/000999.php

Sorry for the long post, but five minutes on google led me to reach clear evidence that that the Patriot Act has already been used on American citizens with no relation at all to "foreign terrorism". I suspect the Patriot Act was entirely unnecessary in both cases, although probably very convenient.

I have not been able to find examples yet of federal officers invoking Section 806 of the Act to seize civil assets without a prior hearing, without a suspect being convicted of a crime, and without notice before or after the seizure. Then again, how do you know you have been violated by the 806 unless you have elaborate surveillance and other security measures of your own to track the federal agents?

crfDecember 3, 2005 12:22 AM

Newspaper editors regularly print the most incendiary letters, not the well argued ones. It's why their called rags.

It makes the small fraction of readers who support these letter writers' opinions happy that they are not all alone in the world.
It makes the bemused majority wonder about the sanity of the people who write these type of letters. Sort of like the comics page.
I guess it makes the original editorialist (you) angry that managing editors don't treat their guest editors, let alone their own paper, with any respect.

It's why people read blogs instead ...

Delores QuadeDecember 3, 2005 7:00 AM

@ Davi

"Then again, how do you know you have been violated by the 806 unless you have elaborate surveillance and other security measures of your own to track the federal agents?"

:-\ Good Point.

Delores QuadeDecember 3, 2005 7:22 AM

@ Concerned:

"I believe John Stossel from 20/20 put it best: "Patrick Henry did not say, 'Give me total security or give me death!'""

:-\

Has anyone ever said "Give me a world stripped completely of corruption, or give me death!"?

corruption

n 1: lack of integrity or honesty (especially susceptibility to bribery); use of a position of trust for dishonest gain [syn: corruptness] [ant: incorruptness] 2: in a state of progressive putrefaction [syn: putrescence, putridness, rottenness] 3: decay of matter (as by rot or oxidation) 4: moral perversion; impairment of virtue and moral principles; "the luxury and corruption among the upper classes"; "moral degeneracy followed intellectual degeneration"; "its brothels; its opium parlors; its depravity" [syn: degeneracy, depravity] 5: destroying someone's (or some group's) honesty or loyalty; undermining moral integrity; "corruption of a minor"; "the big city's subversion of rural innocence" [syn: subversion] 6: inducement (as of a public official) by improper means (as bribery) to violate duty (as by commiting a felony); "he was held on charges of corruption and racketeering"

dq.

Delores QuadeDecember 3, 2005 7:38 AM

@ Captain Zombo:

"We live in a world where technology has enabled the disaffected to kill tens of thousands with chemical and biological weapons."

Complete rubbish. We don't need chemical or biological weapons to rid this World of corruption, and more to the point, the number of 'disaffected' has outnumbered your lothly submission of 'tens of thousands' for decades.

"Those weapons can be assembled with knowledge that any decent grad student in chemistry and biology would achieve through the normal course of their studies. Law enforcement needs new tools to combat this issue. The Patriot Act was an awkward first attempt.

It's unfortunate that you couldn't offer any constructive criticism that could help move the debate forward."

If you're scared, say you're scared. If you want constructive criticism, how about this:

Rather than spending 100 million dollars to a corrupt group of "PR Propagandists" to smooth over the disgusting results of the "War", how about spending 10 million dollars on each knowledgeable American willing to provide you with such constructive criticism to help you move your debate forward?

How do you like them apples?

@ Mark J. :

"There are plenty of "disaffected" people with degrees in chemistry and/or biology. If it's so easy to come up with such a weapon, why haven't they?"

:-)

dq.

Delores QuadeDecember 3, 2005 7:59 AM

@ Nick:

"If we can't get over this fixation of terrorists hiding under the bed - that is, looking for, prosecuting, and preventing a threat that does not exist - then we'll never achieve success."

We will never get over this fixation while U.S. citizens are being manipulated to believe that Bin Laden is responsible for everything other than what he really did. All he really did was teach his people the truth on the basis of:
If we are all God's children, then why do they have so much when we have so little? Why do they disrupt our Holy Land as if they own and control it? Why won't they leave us alone? Why do they lie to their own citizens? Why do they say they will help us but do not? Why when we ask them to leave us alone do they insist on betraying and controlling us? Again, why won't they leave our Holy Land? Why don't they admit to their citizens and the world that they are embarrassed that our cell structures were originally designed to traffic the cocaine that is abundantly desired around the world?

I mean, WTF? my fellow citizens?

To introduce terrorism to the un-informed U.S. population the way the Bush Administration did (and continues to do) is embarrassing and of course, completely disgusting. To stay on topic, I don't know how to get them over the "fixation of terrorists hiding under the bed" because well.. why should our Government fold the only veil of a defense it has left over the un-informed, manipulated future voters? Heaven forbid! Why would they want to screw up the next 20+ years of pre-planned political outcomes if they can just keep up this guise?

Seriously!

dq.

Bruce SchneierDecember 3, 2005 9:19 AM

"It's sad to see people attacking Bruce over the Google link. Gardner is dressing his opinion (no credible reports) as fact (no reports at all). As several others have pointed out, Google is a valid way of showing that."

Don't worry about it. The point is there, whether there are 10 or 100 or a million Google links. I admit that when I typed the query into Google, I only looked at the first two pages of results. There were enough descirptions of Patiot Act abuses in those pages.

Bruce SchneierDecember 3, 2005 9:20 AM

"Newspaper editors regularly print the most incendiary letters, not the well argued ones."

The Minneapolis Star-Tribune seems to divide their letters on any issue into two political piles, and then to randomly choose one from each pile. Makes for entertaining reading sometimes, but very little information gets transmitted.

Davi OttenheimerDecember 3, 2005 5:12 PM

Here's a good summary of some other abuses. Details are in a letter from the ACLU to Senator Feinstein:

http://www.aclu.org/safefree/general/...

" * Secretly search the home of Brandon Mayfield, a Muslim attorney whom the government wrongly suspected, accused and detained as a perpetrator of the Madrid train bombings;
* Serve a National Security Letter (NSL) on an Internet Service Provider (ISP) so coercive under the terms prescribed by the statute that a federal court struck down the entire statute - as vastly expanded by the Patriot Act - used to obtain information about e-mail activity and web surfing for intelligence investigations;
* Gag that ISP from disclosing this abuse to the public, and gag the ACLU itself, which represents the ISP, from disclosing this abuse to the public when the ACLU became aware of it, and from disclosing important circumstances relating to this abuse and other possible abuses of the gag, even to this very day;
* Charge, detain, and prosecute a Muslim student in Idaho, Sami al-Hussayen, for providing "material support" to terrorists because he posted to an Internet website links to objectionable materials, even though such links were available on the websites of the government's own expert witness in the case and on the website of a major news outlet;
* Deny, on account of his political beliefs, admission to the United States of a Swiss national, Tariq Ramadan, a prominent Muslim scholar who was to assume a teaching position at Notre Dame University; and
* Investigate and prosecute crimes that are not terrorism offenses, even though it cited terrorism prevention as the reason Congress should enact the law, and cites terrorism prevention as the reason why it cannot be changed."

If you read through the whole letter, you may also find these two examples:

"The Justice Department used the Patriot Act against a lovesick 20-year-old woman from Orange County, CA, who planted threatening notes aboard a Hawaii-bound cruise ship on which she was traveling with her family. The woman, who said she made the threats to try to return home to her boyfriend, was sentenced to two years in federal prison because of a provision in the Patriot Act targeting threats of terrorism against mass transportation systems."

and that's not to mention the case of Tomas Foral who was "the first person to be charged under the USA Patriot Act for possession of a biological agent with no 'reasonably justified' purpose, a crime carrying a sentence of up to a decade in prison. His crime: discovering 35-year-old tissue samples from an anthrax-infected cow in a broken university cold-storage unit and moving them to a working freezer."

Perhaps the saying "ignorance of the law is no excuse" should be expanded to "ignorance of *abuse* of the law is no excuse".

Sometimes false negatives (e.g. no rights have been infringed by the Patriot Act) can be even more dangerous than false positives.

J.D. AbolinsDecember 4, 2005 11:37 AM

For what it's worth, the Newark Star Ledger (NJ, US) has an ongoing series about the USA PATRIOT Act's controversial provisions: http://www.nj.com/news/patriotact/

The "Patriot Act: At Freedom's Edge" series provides a detailed examination of issues and cases surrounding the various controversial sections of the Act. The treatment is rather balanced. It is a good introduction to the Act's controversial sections.

J.D. Abolins

Bruce SchneierDecember 4, 2005 12:34 PM

"Another useful resource, albeit not confined to the USA PATRIOT Act, is Syracuse University's Transactional Records Access Clearinghouse (TRAC) at http://trac.syr.edu/."

I am a big fan of TRAC, and strongly recommend them. And if any reporters are reading this, it's well worth paying for access to their detailed database. Really.

Davi OttenheimerDecember 4, 2005 10:29 PM

Another story, this one an interesting first-person report from someone who happened to be in the Indian restaurant off Times Square in 2003 when federal agents burst in and staged an interpretation of the Patriot Act:

http://www.alternet.org/story/15770/

"'You have no right to hold us,' Asher insisted.

'Yes, we have every right,' responded one of the agents. 'You are being held under the Patriot Act following suspicion under an internal Homeland Security investigation.' ...a female officer who had been busy typing on her laptop in the front of the restaurant, walked over and put her finger in my face. 'We are at war, we are at war and this is for your safety,' she exclaimed."

Hmmm, hard to tell the authenticity of the story, but sounds plausable...maybe the author could retitle it "hey waiter, there's a boot in my soup" and try to make it on/off broadway.

GregDecember 5, 2005 12:17 PM

The partisanship is partially a result of the 2 party system the US has. You could divide the republicans into various groups that logically shouldn't be in one party -- neocons, fiscal conservatives, christian conservatives, libertarians, etc. Some of those are directly opposed, but yet, they're included in the same party.

NickDecember 6, 2005 12:04 AM

This basically comes down to Bruce's axiom of all security requiring tradeoffs.

What advocates of USA-PATRIOT have failed to do on a consistent basis, is justify those tradeoffs in a meaningful fashion. We're not being given examples of how a particular aspect of PATRIOT is applied; instead, we're being asked to give carte blanche to protect ourselves from terrorists.

This is no different from being in the cybersecurity doghouse - we're presented a shopping list of nifty terms and techniques, but the actual gains and effectiveness of same are unclear.

If I wouldn't purchase a product advertised in this manner, why should I sign off on 'homeland security' that is structured in the same way?

RvnPhnxDecember 7, 2005 10:20 AM

@Bruce
I will note that the Maxwell School in general does better than most of SU, but even the people there are getting most of their FOIA requests relative to the PATRIOT act denied.......for instance a simple listing of all of the different parts of the Dept. of Homeland Security (and not even the sub-parts).

MCABDecember 19, 2005 9:44 AM

"They who would give up an essential liberty for temporary security, deserve neither liberty *nor* security".

It is interesting, and maybe relevant, that in a google of part of this phrase only two of the first ten hits had the correct form.

AnonymousDecember 28, 2005 1:44 PM

Why do people use the more inncouous word "tools" when they really mean "power?"

"The Patriot Act gives law enforcement the tools to..."

"The Patriot Act gives law enforcement the power to..."

When the phrase "the tools to" is used the rest of the sentence almost always refers to something nebulous and unspecific. Like "The tools to prevent terrorism." or "The tools to protect children." or "The tools to fight crime."

When the phrase "the power to" is used then the rest of the sentence almost always refers to something more specific. Such as "The power to conduct domestic surveillence." or "The power to carry firearms." or "The power to seek the personal records of American citizens."

Do a google search on the following:

"the power to" "law enforcement"
and
"the tools to" "law enforcement"

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