A coalition of Democrats and Republicans in the House of Representatives passed an extension of the Patriot Act last week, but Representative David Dreier made a promise: He said that concerns about the Patriot Act’s violations of the Constitution through its provisions expanding unreasonable search and seizure by a big government surveillance system would be examined.
Specifically, Dreier promised that a particular subcommittee in the House would examine violations of constitutional rights under the Patriot Act. Dreier said, “Our security has to be of paramount importance, but it doesn’t mean it is done at the expense of civil liberties and the rights of every American. Well, guess what, Mr. Speaker? The gentleman who chairs the Crime Subcommittee is absolutely dedicated within the next 90 days of pursuing that as vigorously as possible.”
David Dreier is one of those speakers who can’t help but let a little bit of truth slip through the cracks of his public persona. Dreier pledged that the “civil liberties and the rights of every American wouldn’t be sacrificed to the Patriot Act”. That’s true – certainly not every American will be unconstitutionally watched by Big Brother – that’s technologically impossible at the present moment. Still, many Americans, many millions, perhaps, have already had their civil liberties and constitutional rights violated by the Patriot Act.
Dreier also made a rather slipper promise when he said that subcommittee attention to civil liberties violations would be pursuised “as vigorously as possible”. This promise has the rather large loophole of the conclusion that, by gum, it just wasn’t possible to fit any serious hearings and investigations of civil liberties violations into the schedule in the less than three months until abusive Patriot Act spying powers will be put up for another extension vote.
We can put such rhetorical trickery aside, of course. Maybe, in spite of his linguistic evasiveness, Congressman Dreier was in earnest when he said that the impact of the Patriot Act would be examined in subcommittee. We can look to the subcommittee Dreier said would take on the task: The House Subcommittee on Crime, Terrorism, and Homeland Security.
Will this subcommittee truly investigate the Patriot Act’s violation of Americans’ constitutional rights? There’s some cause for skepticism. Every single Republican on the subcommittee voted this month to extend the Patriot Act without any reform of its unconstitutional provisions.
But let’s go and have a look at the list of hearings scheduled in the subcommittee and see if, in fact, Lamar Smith, the “gentleman who chairs the Crime Subcommittee”, has actually been as vigorous as possible in setting up a hearing as promised. No, there is no hearing on the Patriot Act on the schedule.
Just one day after David Dreier made his promise that the House Subcommittee on Crime, Terrorism, and Homeland Security would purse unconstitutional surveillance under the Patriot Act, however, there was a hearing of the subcommittee about big government surveillance programs. It was a hearing dedicated to helping along an effort by the FBI to expand spying on Americans, at the expense of our constitutional rights.
The hearing was on the topic of the FBI’s secretive Going Dark program. Going Dark is a campaign by the FBI to create a requirement that, whenever any communications technology is developed, it must contain a special route, evading all encryption and security measures, through which government agents can conduct easy eavesdropping on all communications using the technology. The Electronic Frontier Foundation has examined Going Dark, and concluded that the expanded government surveillance would violate both the 1st and 4th amendments of the Constitution.
So far, the Subcommittee on Crime Terrorism and Homeland Security doesn’t seem inclined to keep David Dreier’s promise of a hearing of Americans’ grievances about the Patriot Act’s Big Brother system of spying set up against them. However, the meeting of another sort of committee, this one representing the people of the United States of America, has been scheduled.
On March 12, Americans will meet outside the U.S. Capitol to protest. They have a single, simple message: Repeal The Patriot Act. Can you be there?