Obama to re-authorise three provisions of Patriot Act

After the arrest of suspects based in Colorado and New York in an alleged ‘varsity level’ terrorist plot, the spectre of terrorism in the United States has re-emerged as an issue, one that also has economic overtones because of the fragility of recovery. President Obama is following his predecessor George W. Bush in restricting civil liberties in order to meet this threat. As a result, Obama is looking to extend three specific provisions of the USA Patriot Act that are due to expire.

  1. Roving wiretaps (part of Title II, section 206). The first of the three provisions is the one on roving wiretaps which allows the government to target an individual under the same wiretap authorization when the individual switches telephone numbers. This order has been used 140 times from 2004 to 2009.
  2. Property seizure (part of Title II, section 215). The second provision allows the government to seize “any tangible things” relevant to an ongoing terrorist investigation. This provision is controversial because it grants access to business records, library records, and medical records, which are constitutionally-protected.This order has been used 250 times between 2004 and 2009.
  3. Lone wolf provision (part of Title II, Section 207). This allows the government to gain a wiretap on any individual believed to be a terrorist threat irrespective of whether they are connected to known foreign terrorist groups or foreign governments. This provision has never been used to date.

While I understand the rationale for these provisions – protecting Americans from potential terrorists, I question them. They are an abridgement of constitutionally-protected civil liberties and they are in direct contradiction to Obama’s pledges to roll back the Patriot Act.  More importantly for Obama politically, they tie him more directly to the policies of his predecessor as the bank bailouts did, reducing his ability to be perceived as a change agent. Neo-conservatives support the provisions while small-government Libertarians like Ron Paul oppose the Patriot Act. Many Democrats also voice concerns.

Below is a video explaining a number of these issues and a few links highlighting why this issue is important in terms of politics and civil liberties.

Battle Looms Over the Patriot Act – NY Times
USA PATRIOT Act – Wikipedia
Did Obama Break His Campaign Promise to Scrap the Patriot Act? – Huffington Post
The Unpatriot Act, 25 Jul 2003 – Ron Paul
Obama Strays from Dems on Wiretapping – The D.C. Writeup
Editorial: Reining in the Patriot Act – Philadelphia Enquirer

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