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Republicans Start Efforts to Reauthorize the Patriot Act, Messing With the Constitution Again

One of the signs that a member of Congress is trying to slip a measure into law is the measure’s opacity. Here’s the text of H.R. 1467, the Safe and Secure America Act of 2009:

SECTION 1. SHORT TITLE.

This Act may be cited as the `Safe and Secure America Act of 2009′.

SEC. 2. 10-YEAR EXTENSION OF CERTAIN PROVISIONS OF THE USA PATRIOT ACT AND THE INTELLIGENCE REFORM AND TERRORISM PREVENTION ACT OF 2004.

(a) USA PATRIOT Act- Section 102(b) of the USA PATRIOT Improvement and Reauthorization Act of 2005 (Public Law 109-177; 120 Stat. 195) is amended by striking `December 31, 2009′ and inserting `December 31, 2019′.

(b) Intelligence Reform and Terrorism Prevention Act of 2004- Section 6001(b)(1) of the Intelligence Reform and Terrorism Prevention Act of 2004 (Public Law 108-458; 118 Stat. 3742; 50 U.S.C. 1801 note) is amended by striking `December 31, 2009′ and inserting `December 31, 2019′.

Can you tell me what this bill does just by reading its text? Probably not, and to tell you the truth, I can’t tell you either. We have to follow the references in order to figure it out. Let’s do that.

Here’s Section 102(b) of the USA PATRIOT Improvement and Reauthorization Act of 2005:

(b) SECTIONS 206 AND 215 SUNSET.—
(1) IN GENERAL.—Effective December 31, 2009, the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act of 1978 is amended so that sections 501, 502, and 105(c)(2) read as they read on October 25, 2001.
(2) EXCEPTION.—With respect to any particular foreign intelligence investigation that began before the date on which the provisions referred to in paragraph (1) cease to have effect, or with respect to any particular offense or potential offense that began or occurred before the date on which such provisions
cease to have effect, such provisions shall continue in effect.

That’s cryptic, too, isn’t it? Let’s figure it out. On October 25, 2001, changes were made to “sections 501, 502 and 105(c)(2)” of the FISA Act of 1978. They’re set to be undone on December 31, 2009, and the Republicans want to change it so that they stay in force until December 31, 2019. The changes made on October 25, 2001 are changes made by the USA Patriot Act Sections 206 and 215, which permit government agents to engage in roving wiretaps (section 206) and to secretly obtain information on your reading habits, web browsing history or “any tangible things” from libraries, bookstores, universities and other businesses (section 205) without the warrant required by the 4th Amendment to the U.S. Constitution.

Section 6001(b)(1) of the Intelligence Reform and Terrorism Prevention Act of 2004 designates anyone suspected of engaging in acts of terrorism — or suspected in engaging in activities that prepare for acts of terrorism — and lets such a suspected person be treated the same way you’d treat an “agent of a foreign power.”

In short, the Safe and Secure America Act of 2009 lets the government continue to obtain information on you without a warrant, to engage in continued roving wiretaps, and to designate people suspected of doing things that might be activities that might end up in a terrorist act as legally equivalent to a spy for the KGB.

The Republicans who support the Safe And Secure America Act aren’t alone in their effort. Earlier this year, Obama administration Attorney General Eric Holder indicated that he would support the extension of these measures.

From the history of the Military Commissions Act, the Protect America Act and the FISA Amendments Act we have a pretty good template for what happens next:

1. The government announces of some unspecified plan by some unspecified terrorists in some unspecified place at some unspecified time. We’re told to be on the lookout for unspecified terrorists doing dastardly things.

2. Right-wing members of Congress, pundits on FOX News and Juval Aviv take to the airwaves to talk about the imminent disaster to befall us all unless we grant the government powers to “stop the terrorists.”

3. Members of Congress pass the bill, constitution be damned.

4. Democrats respond to angry activists by promising to look into civil liberties issues at some unspecified time in some unspecified manner.

Watch for it.

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