While we may be tempted to direct the entirety of our gaze backwards today, looking over election results in a post-mortem fashion, the wreaking of political havoc outside the voting booth continues.
Today at 12:30 pm, the House Judiciary Committee will “mark up” (that is, amend and pass to the floor of the House of Representatives) H.R. 3845, a bill that in its current form reauthorizes two out of three surveillance provisions of the Patriot Act. The one provision that H.R. 3845 would allow to die, the so-called “Lone Wolf” provision of the Patriot Act, is the one provision that the United States Government has not actually used.
There are many forced smiley faces in public today regarding the weak-tea surveillance reforms of H.R. 3845, reflecting a strategic decision to be positive and not sabotage real or imagined relationships with politicians on Capitol Hill. Chip Pitts of the Bill of Rights Defense Committee (quoted in the Public Record) nails the current political atmosphere regarding civil liberties:
Short-term and political considerations driven by dramatic events once again dramatically affected the need for a more sensible long-term, reasoned, rule-of-law approach…. In the eight years since passage of the original Patriot Act, it’s become clear that the escalating political competition to appear tough on terror (and avoid being accused of being ‘soft on terror’) brings perceived electoral benefits with few costs, with vital but fragile civil liberties being easily sacrificed.
Even nominal and sometimes actual civil liberties advocates have become more used to the ‘new normal’, seemingly forgetting the less visible but vital benefits of the liberties themselves – including for genuine and effective security, let alone for successful, prosperous, creative, dynamic open societies as opposed to closed societies like the former East Germany that used such approaches to their detriment.
You can watch live video of the House Judiciary markup session here. What to watch for:
- An amendment to restrict Patriot Act Section 215 or Section 505 surveillance capacity to individuals or situations related to spying, terrorism or infiltrating “foreign powers.” This is the purpose for which Patriot Act powers were intended, but mostly Patriot Act powers have been used for other purposes. For example, 99.6% of “sneak-and-peek” operations during which your home or car or office is searched without your permission or knowledge are unrelated to terrorism or spying or foreign powers. If restricting civil liberties is really all about catching the terrorists, then why shouldn’t the Patriot Act be restricted in this way? Watch who supports such an amendment and who doesn’t. Take names.
- References to secret, classified briefings that “show beyond a doubt” that without the Patriot Act we would all be fried to a crisp. In the past, such demonstrations have been revealed after the fact to be hype. Think of Trent Lott crying for an evacuation of Washington, DC just before a vote on the Protect America Act.
- Declarations a la Jon Kyl that “I haven’t heard any complaints” from constituents about being the subject of surveillance, search or seizure. Such declarations depend on you to be ignorant of the fact that the government makes a regular practice of not telling you you’re being spied on or searched.
Do not depend on professional journalists from your favorite newspaper or your TV news channel to cover this event. Recent history tells us they won’t. It’s up to you to see what happens with your own eyes, and then to spread the word yourself.