Editor's note: This contribution by the late journalist I.F. Stone first appeared in our January 1975 magazine.
November 17, 2005
Bush may be slipping in the polls, but he’s still getting just about everything he wants out of the Congress.
Including reauthorization of the Patriot Act.
This week, a conference committee of the House and Senate agreed to make permanent almost every aspect of the Patriot Act. Even the most controversial measures—including allowing the FBI and local police to snoop on your library and bookstore activities—were given another seven-year lease.
The conference bill would still allow the FBI or local law enforcement to barge into your home when you’re not there, ransack your house, rifle through your files, go onto your computer and implant in it a device called a “magic lantern,” which records every single key stroke you make.
Then the cops can leave without telling you about it—at least for a while.
Here a compromise was made, but a minor one. Instead of being able to delay notification for a “reasonable time,” as in the original, now the police could delay for an initial 30-day period, but this could be stretched indefinitely with an “unlimited number of 90-day extensions if approved” by a court, according to the ACLU. The legislation also maintains the ridiculously broad definition of “domestic terrorism,” which could be construed as covering nonviolent acts of civil disobedience.
And it gags you from telling anyone except your lawyers if the FBI comes after your records. In fact, it even makes it a new crime to violate that gag order.
Finally, it adds additional crimes that carry the penalty of death.
Civil liberties groups around the country, along with liberal allies in Congress, fought valiantly to reform the Patriot Act. They succeeded in preventing some of the most egregious proposals from becoming law, such as granting the executive branch additional powers essentially to write up its own subpoenas and thereby bypass the judiciary. And in a few places on the margins, they made modest improvements.
But the Patriot Act still contains several provisions that are anathema to our first freedoms.
This proves that on some issues, at least, Bush still has enough power to prevail.
So let’s not kid ourselves about his incompetence and his lack of vision.
He’s got a vision, all right, and he’s still achieving much of it.
Well, what do you know? On November 17 and November 18, some Senators would not swallow the draft of the conference report bill on the Patriot Act. Senator Russ Feingold threatened a filibuster. Senator Arlen Specter expressed concern about the long sunset provisions. And three Democrats and three Republicans signed a letter denouncing the bill: Feingold, Richard Durbin, and Ken Salazar on the Democratic side, and Larry Craig, John Sununu, and Lisa Murkowski on the Republican side.