Southern Politics

As many will recall, the original USA Patriot Act (Uniting and Strengthening America by Providing Appropriate Tools Required to Intercept and Obstruct Terrorism Act of 2001) was sort of a rush job, passed by the Congress a little more after three planes crashed into the Pentagon and the World Trade Towers and gave the country a tremendous scare. But, while it seemed to have been done quickly, the passel of provisions, amending all kinds of laws already on the books with a word here and a phrase there, had obviously been a long time in preparation and lain on a shelf, just waiting for an opportune moment. In other words, it was the handiwork of a Democratic administration–a law enforcement initiative into which the “war on terror” was to be conveniently folded. Which probably provided the basis for the persistent Republican argument that law enforcement strategies are inappropriate for targeting terrorists.

In any event, because some legislators were sufficiently uneasy about the new authorities being granted, the authorization of the Act was for a fixed period of time and requires periodic renewal. So, that’s what was on the agenda when the current Congress tried to rush through a vote this week, without having the required committee hearings and opportunities for amendment, and four Georgia Congressmen (Broun, Graves, Kingston and Woodall) shot it down with the help of 22 other Republican colleagues. They are to be congratulated because, as the Atlanta Journal Constitution tells us:

The provisions in question are related to surveillance of “lone wolf” terrorists, roving wiretaps and controversial Section 215 evidence requests that do not allow the person served with a special Patriot Act search warrant to publicly disclose that the government has asked them for certain information.

In other words, it allows searches by agents of government on the basis of suspicion, without search warrants, and, when warrants are issued, restrictions on the speech of innocent bi-standers. Or, in White House speak:

The Administration strongly supports extension of three critical authorities that our Nation’s intelligence and law enforcement agencies need to protect our national security. These authorities, which expire as of February 28, 2011 absent extension, are: (1) section 206 of the USA PATRIOT Act, which provides authority for roving surveillance of targets who take steps that may thwart Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act (“FISA”) surveillance; (2) section 215 of the USA PATRIOT Act, which provides authority to compel production of business records and other tangible things with the approval of the FISA court; and (3) section 6001 of the Intelligence Reform and Terrorism Prevention Act, which provides authority under FISA to target non-U.S. persons who engage in international terrorism or activities in preparation therefor, but are not necessarily associated with an identified terrorist group (the so-called “lone wolf” amendment).

There you have it, all in one paragraph. The rights of scary individual persons are to be disrespected to “protect” an amorphous figment of the imagination — i.e. an insecure nation.

I’d like to think the four Georgians’ was a principled vote and they’ll recruit even more colleagues to join them when it comes up again. In the meantime, kudos to Representatives Broun, Graves, Kingston and Woodall, not to mention the 122 Democrats who stood up for the rights of the individual natural person.


Monica Smith

Monica Smith writes Hannah's Blog. Born in Germany, she came to the United States as a child, living first in California, then after an interval in Chile, in New York. Married to a retired professor at the University of Florida, where she lived for 17 years, she moved to St. Simons Island, Georgia, in 1993 and now divides her time between Georgia and New Hampshire. (New Hampshire, she says, is always interesting during a presidential election.) She and her husband have three children and five grandchildren. Ms. Smith says she "learned long ago that I am not a good team player when I got hired at the Library of Congress, fresh out of college with a degree in political science and proficiency in four foreign languages, to 'edit' library cards and informed my supervisor that if she was going to insist I punch the clock exactly on time, my productivity was going to fall from being the highest to being the same as everyone else's. The supervisor opted to assign me to another building where there was no time-clock. After I had the first of our three children, I decided a paycheck wasn't worth the hassle."