On Thursday Rep. John Boehner, Sen. Mitch McConnell and Sen. Harry Reid announced that after a secretive backroom meeting they had agreed on a plan to renew the PATRIOT Act for four more years — to ram it through the Senate and then the House with little or no debate before anyone can really organize any opposition. The Senate is expected to vote on Monday and the House by Wednesday.
Why did they take this route? It seems obvious. They are more aware than we realized how strongly opposed the grassroots of both parties are to any further extension of the remaining provisions of the act. They know we're fed up. They saw the anger when they tried to force a long-term renewal back in February, and they .don't want to take any chances this time. By this action they are clearly declaring that their personal loyalties are not to their parties and not to their constituents, but to the bipartisan ruling elite who control Congress and the federal bureaucracy.
The three sections of the PATRIOT Act which are up for renewal override longstanding privacy protections in common law and the Fourth Amendment to the Constitution. Historically it has been necessary to go to a judge and show evidence to justify a warrant before searching a location or carrying out surveillance. The sections of the PATRIOT Act they are trying to renew take away that fundamental protection. They allow roving wiretaps of phone and data transmission without even identifying the target being investigated, the seizure of private and professional records without due process, secret surveillance orders against any individual without evidence of a crime and blanket search warrants called National Security Letters.
These provisions are contrary to the most basic principles of individual rights on which our country was founded and are blatantly unconstitutional. They violate 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.