Wednesday, April 06, 2005

The USA Patriot Act

Some parts of the Patriot Act will expire at the end of this year unless renewed. The administration has begun its fight to renew them:

The Bush administration, launching its campaign to renew portions of the USA Patriot Act that expire at the end of the year, acknowledged today that it had used the act's most controversial sections dozens of times.

The administration also opened the door to accepting incremental changes in the law, which it has said is crucial in the fight against terrorism.

U.S. Atty. Gen. Alberto R. Gonzales, testifying before the Senate Judiciary Committee, strongly defended the administration's use of the terror-fighting law and warned that any effort to dismantle it would be tantamount to "unilateral disarmament" in fighting terrorism.

FBI Director Robert Mueller, testifying at the same hearing, argued for major new powers that would expand the bureau's authority to issue administrative subpoenas in terror cases that would give it access to a wide range of data without gaining court permission.

The hearing marked the beginning of what is expected to be a long and wrenching congressional review of how the Patriot Act has operated in practice.

In other words, these guys want to have even more secret powers to intrude in private lives. It is the secrecy of the law that has made it so difficult to criticize, actually, for we really don't know what the government has been up to:

Public opinion about the Patriot Act remains sharply divided, in part because much of the law and how it operates has remained shrouded in secrecy.

Even some congressional Republicans -- including Sen. Arlen Specter, the powerful chairman of the Judiciary Committee -- have expressed concern over how the law has operated and have indicated that revisions are needed.

What I would like to know is how, exactly, terrorism is defined by the administration, and who might be viewed as a terrorist. I'm worried that a lax definition allows the law to be used against anyone at all who disagrees with the administration, including those who are simply protesting the government's policies.