Monday, September 21, 2009

What About Obama's Promise to Scrap the Patriot Act?

It certainly would appear the answer to this question is "NO". However, as I have pointed out in recent posts, while Obama has asked for the renewal of three key surveillance laws in the Patriot Act, he left the door open for increased privacy protections being added. In addition to that, Senator Russ Feingold has authored his own bill - the JUSTICE Act - which would include more effective checks on government searches of Americans’ personal records and other overly broad authorities.

The bill will also reform the FISA Amendments Act, passed last year, by repealing the retroactive immunity provision, preventing “bulk collection” of the contents of Americans’ international communications, and prohibiting “reverse targeting” of innocent Americans. And the bill enables better oversight of the use of National Security Letters (NSLs) after the Department of Justice Inspector General issued reports detailing the misuse and abuse of the NSLs. The Senate Judiciary Committee will hold a hearing on Wednesday, September 23rd, on reauthorization of the USA PATRIOT Act.

Feingold's legislation provides a kind of privacy litmus test for the President. With that in mind, lets look back at just what in fact candidate Obama promised versus what he now seems to be advocating.

Earl Ofari Hutchinson tackles the issue on the Huffington Post:

Then-Senatorial candidate Obama in 2003 branded the Patriot Act "shoddy and dangerous" and pledged to dump it. He made the pledge in response to a candidate's survey by the National Organization for Women. Obama reneged on the pledge. But he did work to shave off some of the more blatantly outrageous constitutional abuses in the Act by imposing some civil liberties protections in the gathering and use of intelligence, on the use of torture in interrogations, and requiring at least some semblance of due process in court proceedings. But that paled in significance when Obama in a letter and with little fanfare and comment routinely let stand most of the still noxious provisions in the Act.

Business and citizens groups can still have their records examined by the government with minimal checks on how the information can be used and more particularly used against. Individuals often based on flimsiest of evidence can still be targeted for monitoring and surveillance if suspected of being a potential terrorist. Organizations and individuals can still be slapped with so-called roving wiretaps (taps that can be placed on an individual or group anywhere, anytime) again based on the flimsiest evidence or suspicion.


Obama justifies keeping nearly all of Bush's terror war provisions in place with the standard rationale that the government must have all the weapons needed to deal with the threat of terrorism, even legally and constitutionally dubious weapons. That, of course, was the Bush and Cheney stock line. The one small difference between them and Obama is that Obama has sought to put a softer casing around those illicit weapons. That's no consolation for those who took candidate Obama and later Senator Obama at his word that he'd scrap or at least radically overhaul the Act.

Click here to read the rest of the article.

Let's hope Senator Feingold, along with Senator's Durbin and Sanders in particular, can persuade enough Democrats to support the bill, which perhaps in turn will remind the President that he did make a promise...and while its clear he's not going to keep it, the least he could do is support basic, common sense legislation like Senator Feingolds.

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