Let the Patriot Act Die

May 21, 2004

By Tom DeWeese

President Bush has hit the campaign trail to save the Patriot Act, which will expire in 2005. In calling for its continuation, the President said, “we can no longer rely on false hope.” Which false hope is that? The hope that America’s free society will protect us like it has for more than 200 years? We who love American liberty have great fear of the Patriot Act.

Its aim, according to the Justice Department, is to give federal law enforcement agencies the surveillance and investigative tools they need to deter future terror attacks, but the quick, emotional passage of the Patriot Act only weeks after the September 11th attacks allowed little time for scrutiny of its measures. In fact, most members of Congress did not read it before voting. Congressman Ron Paul said he couldn’t even get a copy before the vote. As a result, provisions of the Act offer major opportunities for government abuses of law-abiding private citizens.

The Act says that the government does not need to have a suspect or to even be conducting an investigation related to terrorism to monitor your visits into web sites on the Internet.

The Patriot Act changes the definition of terrorism, allowing even legitimate protestors, such as pro-life activists, to be at risk of being labeled “terrorists” if violence erupted at their events.

The Act expands the capability to obtain warrants and conduct searches without disclosing them immediately. Under the Act, law enforcement can walk into your home and take records without your knowing they were there. Of course a warrant must be obtained. But you may never know about it. It doesn’t even require a real judge to obtain one anymore.

The Act requires fuller identification of bank customers. A year before 9-11 more than 150,000 Americans protested these very provisions in a scheme by the FDIC called “Know Your Customer.” But now, special software will help firms in 25 finance-related industries, covered by the law, to compare millions of customer records with thousands of entries on federal blacklists.

Businesses such as car dealers, insurance companies, investment brokers, lenders and real estate firms will be required to file “Suspicious Activity Reports” to the Treasury Department.

Here’s an interesting fact. The Patriot Act only mentions protecting our northern border. It says not a word about the southern one. Our southern border remains, absolutely wide open, allowing anyone to literally walk into this country.

In the name of fighting terrorism, we are witnessing a new kind of government “urban sprawl” oozing out of Washington, D.C. into every back alley, bedroom, and underwear drawer in America.

The Government Electronics and Information Technology Association (GEIA) reports that there are more than 100 federal entities involved in forging the largest conglomeration of government/private contractor interests since the creation of the Pentagon. GEIA represents hundreds of corporate members seeking to cash in on the Homeland Security-citizen-surveillance-spending spree.

In September 2002, dozens of major high-tech companies formed the “Homeland Security Industries Association.” A key objective of the association is to win a piece of the action for the creation of national ID cards for travelers.

Business Week reports that the SAS Institute is among many corporations scrambling to launch a whole new line of anti-money laundering software designed to help insurance companies, investment banks and brokerage firms spy on their clients’ financial activities on behalf of the government in compliance with the Patriot Act.

According to Bert Ely, the head of a consulting company for financial institutions, the new anti-money laundering provisions of the Patriot Act will do nothing to stop the financing of international terrorists. At best, he says, the new provisions will actually provide evildoers with a road map to avoid detection.

What the new Patriot Act provisions are really about, says Ely, is to have the United States fall into line with an international campaign being waged by the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development and the Financial Action Task Force against countries that serve as tax havens. It’s all about tax collection!

Business Week also reported that private-sector software makers are racing to develop programs to zero in on gambling. Business Week noted that, “the feds have put casinos on notice that they’re next in the line of security.” Now, how many terrorists have actually raised their funds in Las Vegas?

In mid-September 2002, the U.S. Department of Commerce and the Office of Homeland Security held an expo in Washington. Medium and small firms from across the nation were invited in to showcase the very latest in citizen surveillance wares.

The US Chamber of Commerce has hired the former deputy assistant to the Joint Chiefs of Staff to act as a liaison between the chamber and businesses seeking homeland security contracts. PoliticalMoneyline says that 444 groups and individuals have registered as lobbyists to deal with “terror” and “security” issues.

IBM has opened a “Government Solutions Center” in Vienna, Virginia. The high-tech Unisys Corporation has established a similar exhibition for inspection by federal surveillance planners, called the “Homeland Security Center for Excellence.”

Both corporations are racing to cash in on billions of dollars for facial recognition systems at airports and, in anticipation of “trusted traveler” cards, a high-tech ID tied to extensive background checks and biometric identification.

And finally this: with all of its new data banks, the Department of Justice announced last March (2003) that accuracy is no longer a concern for the building of one of the world’s largest databases called the National Crime Information Center (NCIC).

The NCIC has been exempted from the Privacy Act of 1974 that requires information entered into government databases be timely, relevant, complete and accurate.

Also exempt are two other Department of Justice databases, the Central Records System and the National Center for Analysis of Violent Crime. The rational for exempting some of the nation’s largest databases is that law-enforcement officers need bad data entered into NCIC in order to hurry in solving cases.

The “false hope,” Mr. President, is that repealing our liberties in the name of fighting terrorism will somehow lead to peace. Let the Patriot Act die and keep the American dream alive.

Tom DeWeese
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Tom DeWeese is President of the American Policy Center and National Grassroots Coordinator for CFACT (Committee for a Constructive Tomorrow) working to help local activists organize into Freedom Pods (www.CFACT.org). He is also the author of three books, including Now Tell Me I Was Wrong, ERASE, and Sustainable: the WAR on Free Enterprise, Private Property, and Individuals.