Very unfortunately, President Obama just signed a four-year extension of the so-called PATRIOT Act, with three central provisions that permit warrantless spying by government agencies on US residents. This extension was rushed through the Congress with parliamentary maneuvers and opponents of it who wanted a public debate were shut down by Reid and Boehner.
If the Bush White House blithely picked up the phone and asked the Central Intelligence Agency to gather information on my private life for the purpose of destroying me politically– a set of actions that was illegal every which way from Sunday– then imagine how powerful government officials are using the legal authorization they receive from the PATRIOT Act to spy on and marginalize perceived opponents.
The act is clearly unconstitutional and guts key Bill of Right protections. Among its disturbing aspects is the access it gives government agencies to individuals’ library records, business records and other personal effects without requiring probable cause of a crime being committed. And while the wiretap provisions target non-US citizens, they extend to any conversations the latter have with US citizens. The framers of the constitution in any case believed that the liberties they proclaimed extended to “all men,” not just citizens.
Worse, Sen. Ron Wyden has said that there is a “secret PATRIOT Act” in the sense that there is a government interpretation of the act that allows surveillance and intrusiveness far beyond what the letter of the statute seems to permit.
The scale of the electronic surveillance of Americans’ private correspondence by the National Security Agency is barely imaginable, and we have no idea how much of our communications are being stored on NSA servers and sifted through by computer programs.
The Congress should revisit the PATRIOT Act in the light of the revelation of what was attempted in my regard, and should repeal the damn thing. Failing that, the federal judiciary should find it unconstitutional, which it is. But one of the things that worries me is that some of the key political and judicial personnel who might want to move against it may themselves already have been victims of surveillance, entrapment and blackmailing. Just how corrupt has our whole governmental apparatus become, that clear violations of our Constitution are blithely accepted?