Wednesday, February 9, 2011

Susan Davis Flips on Patriot Act

Dean has had a great series of articles, titled WW()D? comparing Obama's administration to Bush's, and failing to find significant differences. On this theme, the President wants a re-authorization of the Patriot Act. Today, the House of Representatives narrowly voted not to reauthorize some provisions on an emergency basis, but it will certainly pass in the normal manner. From Wired Magazine, (H/T Dave Maass) here are the expiring provisions of the act.

The "roving wiretap” provision allows the FBI to obtain wiretaps from a secret intelligence court, known as the FISA court, without identifying what method of communication is to be tapped.

The “lone wolf” measure allows FISA court warrants for the electronic monitoring of a person for whatever reason — even without showing that the suspect is an agent of a foreign power or a terrorist. The government has said it has never invoked that provision, but the Obama administration said it wanted to retain the authority to do so.

The “business records” provision allows FISA court warrants for any type of record, from banking to library to medical, without the government having to declare that the information sought is connected to a terrorism or espionage investigation.

With proper oversight, the first measure is probably needed in today's environment of multiple devices and forms of electronic communications. But, the last two appear to be unconstitutional to my admittedly untrained eye. The relevant quote you were looking for:
The right of the people to be secure in their persons, houses, papers, and effects, against unreasonable searches and seizures, shall not be violated, and no Warrants shall issue, but upon probable cause, supported by Oath or affirmation, and particularly describing the place to be searched, and the persons or things to be seized.
I think it's fair to say that one's email is the modern equivalent of one's papers?

But notice how Democrats now sound like Republicans. Here is Susan Davis' (D-CA and my congressperson) on why she voted to reauthorize:
“I have faith that President Bush Obama will responsibly use the tools contained in the legislation needed to help prevent terrorist attacks, and not to spy on average Americans. The law also requires a significant level of court and congressional oversight.”
[Strike-through mine.] This sounds suspiciously like the arguments made by Republicans in the Bush era, who argued that the President would use the power wisely. At the time, I asked my conservative friends how a potential President Hillary Clinton might use these powers. That got some traction. Why is the bill so great now, when Susan Davis voted against it in 2006. Mere change of administration? Fabulous logic.

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