The House of Representatives today, under other than simply majority rules, narrowly voted down the extension of three provisions of the Patriot Act, as reported here:
The House voted 277-148 to keep the three provisions of the USA Patriot Act on the books until Dec. 8. But Republicans brought up the bill under a special expedited procedure requiring a two-thirds majority, and the vote was seven short of reaching that level.
The three provisions concerned were:
The Patriot Act bill would have renewed the authority for court-approved roving wiretaps that permit surveillance on multiple phones. Also addressed was Section 215, the so-called library records provision that gives the FBI court-approved access to “any tangible thing” relevant to a terrorism investigation.
The third deals with the “lone-wolf” provision of a 2004 anti-terror law that permits secret intelligence surveillance of non-U.S. people not known to be affiliated with a specific terrorist organization.
The House roll call of the vote tallies Lynn Woolsey among those who voted against renewal of these provisions. She and 121 other Democrats were joined by 26 Republicans (i.e., in the words of a Washington Post article, “more than two dozen Republicans who support the Bill of Rights.”). This marks a significant collaboration between those on the right and those on the left who uphold individual liberties and deplore excessive intrusion by government. Lynn Woolsey has voted “no” on making the Patriot Act permanent previously (one time in 2005, as recorded here, in the “Civil Rights” section). Seldom does Rep. Woolsey vote in a manner with which I concur, but in this case she did. I think it is right that the Patriot Act should be curbed. Although we must be vigilant regarding potential terrorist threats, I agree with the Republican Liberty Caucus which, in an opinion piece, points out the defects in the three provisions (please read the article for these invaluable specifics) and then provides a general summary for opposition to their continuance:
All three of these provisions center on the covert surveillance of US citizens with little or no proof of their involvement in terrorism. There is an Orwellian quality to the powers granted by these provision. They put the entire population under observation, violating the privacy of millions in the hopes of catching a few terrorist associates who could have been caught by more traditional means, as has been the case with almost every terrorist arrest since 9/11.
“The Bill of Rights exists for a reason,” said Republican Liberty Caucus Chairman Dave Nalle, “and it has become clear that while there may be threats from terrorism, they are not great enough to justify the assault on our rights which is embodied in the PATRIOT Act. The language of these sections is so broad and so open to abuse that they could easily be used against even the most innocent among us for political or personal reasons. What is the value of safety if we no longer have the liberty to truly enjoy it?”
Of course, since a two-thirds majority only eluded the House leadership by seven votes, the bill for extension (which interestingly has President Obama’s backing) will be (back to the Washington Post article for this quote) brought “back for a quick vote later this month under normal rules, requiring only a simple majority for passage.” However, as one of the freshman representatives who voted “yes” said:
the measure is “going to need some examination going forward, so all I did today is just, hey, instead of making a wrong decision, we’re just going to do a little more due diligence to make the very right decision to both protect our security as well as protect the civil liberties of the American people.”
I hope this statement will turn out to be true. Our Congress must not trample liberty to try to obtain full security (which is not possible). Congresswoman Woolsey, I have no doubt, will continue to vote against Patriot Act extensions and in those actions I support her.
UPDATE: If anyone doubts that our government can and already does infringe on Americans’ rights, read this interview with Mike German, Former FBI Agent Turned ACLU Attorney who says many federal agencies spy on citizens for religious and political grounds:
The most disturbing thing we’ve uncovered is the scope of domestic intelligence activities taking place today. Domestic spying is now being done by a host of federal agencies (FBI, DOD, DHS, DNI) as well as state and local law enforcement and even private companies. Too often this spying targets political activity and religious practices. We’ve documented intelligence activities targeting or obstructing First Amendment-protected activity in 33 states and DC.
When asked whether “the War on Terror will continue to be used an excuse to violate the rights of American citizens,” he replied, “Unfortunately, yes.”