Patriot Act Renewal?

Gretchen Gallen
WASHINGTON, D.C. – Among the many diverse subjects covered in President Bush's State of the Union speech was a push for the renewal of the U.S. Patriot Act, a law that among many things enables the FBI to conduct Internet surveillance without the need for a warrant.

The Patriot Act was pushed through Congress soon after 9/11 in a sweeping attempt to empower the government's national security effort. Originally titled the 'Combating Terrorism Act,' the gaggle of new provisions granted government broad access to the Internet and the right to override previously upheld privacy and civil rights protections.

The 342-page bill was later renamed and expanded into what is now known as the 'The Patriot Act' and is intended to "deter and punish terrorist acts in the U.S. and around the world, to enhance law enforcement investigatory tools, and for other purposes," according to the Department of Justice.

"Many of the provisions are bad and unreasonable and intrusive," J.D. Obenberger, attorney and counselor at law, told XBiz. "In my opinion, the Patriot Act is out of keeping with the traditions of liberty. It was barely read by anyone in Congress before it was enacted."

Just over a dozen key provisions of the Patriot Act will expire on Dec. 31, 2005, and already the issue is being used as a campaign flagship by President Bush in the "war against terror."

However, according to reports, many portions of the Patriot Act have no expiration date and will continue to enforce government-related investigations indefinitely.

"There are many provisions in the act that make it easier to learn about people, and they all concern me a lot," Obenberger said. "However, I know nothing in the Patriot Act that singles out the adult entertainment industry, but it affects all people involved in e-commerce. The President is being set for future control of the Internet. I don't like the idea of choke points in the Internet. What seems to be happening is that those very choke points are being controlled for national security purposes."

According to the Electronic Frontier Foundation (EFF), the Patriot Act "expands on all four traditional tools of surveillance used by law enforcement," including wiretaps, search warrants, pen/trap orders and subpoenas, and enables government to monitor the online activities of Americans, and even track what websites are visited, by merely telling a judge anywhere in the U.S. that obtaining that information is 'relevant' to an ongoing criminal investigation.

Additionally, the person being investigated does not have to be the target of the investigation and the government is not obligated to report to the court or tell the person spied upon what it has done. The government can also obtain information about users from their ISPs or others who handle or store their online communications, in addition to seizing voice and email messages pursuant to warrants.

"It's tough to predict how the horse race will end up," said Kevin Bankston, an attorney for EFF when asked about the likelihood of the Patriot Act being renewed. "It all depends on whether we can show abuse of any of these powers. But the catch-22 is that these powers are used in secret and there is no requirement to report to the public or Congress on what is going on. The fear is that the executive branch will say they are using it as responsibly as possible."

Bankston continued by saying: "It's going to be a fight. I am optimistic that a number of committees have voiced opposition. Clearly if you saw the State of the Union when he [Bush] mentioned that some provisions would expire, there was a round of applause. This is not a typical exercise. There's going to be a lot of serious combat."

According to reports, a sequel to the Patriot Act, the Patriot II, is being drafted and would contain even broader provisions.

To date, three states and more than 230 counties and municipalities have expressed disapproval of the Patriot Act.

The St. Paul Minnesota City Council is on the verge of taking up a measure in opposition to the Patriot Act, claiming that it conflicts with the principles of federalism and civil liberties as laid out in the Bill of Rights.