At Thursday’s markup of Patriot Act reauthorization, Senator Patrick Leahy of Vermont nearly blew his top when responding to a Republican Senator who said the government shouldn’t have to show someone was a terrorism or spying associate or suspect before nabbing their papers, communications, or property without a the probable cause warrant specified in the Constitution:
“Some people tend to think that government snoops on them a little bit too much as it is, and whether you’re going down to buy a book or a magazine or a newspaper it ought to be — unless there’s some kind of probable cause — you ought to be able to do that. Not just because someone in law enforcement is living next door and doesn’t like you and says, “Well, I’ll just go find out what he’s reading!”
At what point do you just say, “Hey, why don’t you just walk in my house, no warrant, nothing else, go through all my records, see everything I’m doing?” In my state of Vermont — maybe it’s different in Utah — but in my state of Vermont people like their privacy. They like that people don’t snoop on them, and if they do snoop on them they at least have to meet the standard that you would have to meet to secretly obtain library circulation records and patron lists. If you’re going to secretly get the list of what someone’s buying, well then you ought to be able to meet a certain level for that so that you’re not having people snooping in your books just for political reasons or for a personal reason but actually have some reason for doing it.
This heightened standard for bookseller records is already strongly endorsed by the Attorney General and the Director of National Intelligence within the last Congress, and they’re following this standard administratively anyway for both libraries and booksellers.
I just get concerned that everybody wants to give up all our sense of privacy around here, that we allow so much snooping on everything we do anyway in this country, like the hearing we had the other day in Appropriations on the basic electronic strip searches they’re doing in airports now. At some point we just ought to say, “Hey, are we so afraid of ourselves that we’re going to have somebody snooping on everybody?” It’s going to be a Big Brother kind of thing. I know totalitarian governments do that. Maybe it’s since I come from a state where people still care about their privacy.”
The old lion roars… for a little while. A short time later, Senator Leahy voted to send reauthorization of Patriot Act powers on to the full Senate with his committee’s approval.