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GOP-CONTROLLED HOUSE OKs PATRIOT ACT

 

Posted 1:00 AM Eastern
by NWV Staff Writer
December 15, 2005
NewsWithViews.com

Despite massive opposition from individuals and groups on all sides of the political spectrum, the GOP-controlled House of Representatives on Wednesday gave in to pressure from the Administration and approved the conference report H.R. 3199 (introduced by Judiciary chairman James Sensenbrenner, R-Wis.) which would make permanent 14 of the 16 provisions of the controversial Patriot Act -- but failed to put much-needed checks and balances against abuse into the law.

The House vote was 251-174, with 44 Democrats joining 207 Republicans. Only 17 Republicans took a stand against the bill. These included Ron Paul, Texas; Dana Rohrbacher, Calif.; and Bruce Otter, Idaho. There were nine “not voting” -­ six Republicans and three Democrats.

Click here for the Vote Tally.

H.R. 3199 is now in the Senate where it faces at least some opposition, a possibility vehemently opposed by its supporters, including the White House.

“Renewing the PATRIOT Act before it expires in December is literally a matter of life and death,” exclaimed Rep. Ric Keller, R-Fla.

And President Bush urged the Senate not to delay passage. “The Patriot Act is essential to fighting the war on terror and preventing our enemies from striking America again,” he said. “In the war on terror we cannot afford to be without this law for a single minute.”

A vote in the Senate could come as early as today, according to Kent Snyder, executive director of the The Liberty Committee, a grass roots lobbying group based in Arlington, Va.

“The plan is to have the whole thing over and done with by the weekend,” Snyder told NWV.

“People have got to realize that no legislation gets through this Congress without full approval by the White House and the votes lined up ahead of time,” Snyder explained. “That’s why George Bush has not vetoed a single bill. Most of the Republicans eventually fall in line behind the president, and Congress has not rejected one of the administration’s key bills, such as CAFTA. Now it’s the Patriot Act.”

The USA PATRIOT Act (named from its acronym ­ “Uniting and Strengthening America by Providing Appropriate Tools Required to Intercept and Obstruct Terrorism”), was rushed through Congress in the aftermath of the terrorist attacks of Sept. 11, 2001. The new law greatly expanded the surveillance and prosecutorial powers of the government against suspected terrorists, their associates, and financiers. [patriot act]

But while many Republicans, including the White House, regard the law as a necessary protection for this country, its critics point to the misuse of these powers by government agencies against ordinary citizens and political activists and regard many of the provisions to be unconstitutional. Not surprisingly, opposition has been fierce.

“Numerous groups ­ conservative and liberal; Republican and Democratic ­ oppose H.R. 3199,” said Kent Snyder, in an e-mail alert send shortly before the vote.

“Groups such as Gun Owners of America, American Conservative Union and Americans for Tax Reform want the U.S. House to vote ‘no’ on H.R. 3199, as does the American Civil Liberties Union.”

In his e-mail Snyder pointed to growing bipartisan opposition in the Senate, where senators Larry Craig, R-Idaho, and Russell Feingold, D-Wisc., have threatened to filibuster H.R. 3199 should the House pass it ­ which it has now done.

Quoting statements from different groups, Snyder doesn’t mince words when it comes to slamming certain sections of the bill and the existing statute as unconstitutional, and he categorizes the threats to liberty according to the now-familiar Threat Level Code.

Says Snyder: “Patriot Act, un-American? You bet. For example, the Patriot Act violates our constitutional standard of probable cause for search and seizure. Section 215 allows the federal government to seize library records and records of firearms sales. That shatters your Fourth Amendment protections.

”Gun Owners of America warns, ‘These records would be obtained from gun dealers, who are required by law to keep the gun purchase records (4473 forms). Thus an anti-gun administration could then easily compile gun owners registration lists ­ an enterprise which has often been a prelude to gun confiscation.

“’Of course, more than just your gun purchase records are at stake. Financial and medical records, library records and much more are also open to FBI fishing expeditions. They don’t have to get any prior approval from any court.’ That’s unconstitutional.

”Threat Level to Gun Ownership: Orange (high)

”Threat Level to Personal Privacy: Red (severe)”

”These aren’t the only un-American provisions in the so-called Patriot Act,” Snyder writes, and quotes from an ACLU press release: “If the House approves H.R. 3199 tomorrow, the U.S. Secret Service will continue to do more than physically protect the president and others. A reauthorized Patriot Act would ‘make changes to the criminal statutes administered by the Secret Service and could seriously damage the free speech rights of all Americans.”

“Caroline Fredrickson, Director of the ACLU Washington Legislative Office, warns, ‘If this provision is adopted, our precious First Amendment would be significantly curtailed. The Secret Service already has broad authority to stifle dissent at events where high-ranking public officials appear. This little-noticed provision, contained in legislation meant to reauthorize “exclusion zones,” even without the attendance of the president or other Secret Service protectee.’ “So, express a dissenting opinion by holding a sign or saying the ‘wrong’ words to a politician you don’t like and you could be committing a felony punishable by one year in prison,” says Snyder.

”Threat Level to Free Speech: Red (severe)”

It gets worse.

According to Caroline Frederickson, this reauthorization bill “would continue to permit the FBI to access a huge array of extremely private records of innocent Americans without having to demonstrate a connection between the records sought and a suspected foreign terrorist or terrorist organization.”

Frederickson fears that a shorter sunset on a few controversial powers will not protect privacy and stresses that it will not redress in any way the FBI’s ability to use National Security Letters "to pry into people’s private affairs, with no judicial oversight."

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“We call on all fair-minded lawmakers to reject this hijacked legislation and stand firm against pressure from the administration to compromise on protections in our Bill of Rights,” she says.

NOTE: ACLU has set up an entire section ­ “Safe and Free” -- on its website to provide information about the Patriot Act, its reauthorization, and the ongoing struggle against it.

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...this reauthorization bill “would continue to permit the FBI to access a huge array of extremely private records of innocent Americans without having to demonstrate a connection between the records sought and a suspected foreign terrorist or terrorist organization.”