One of the arguments made for the Patriot Act was that existing federal law made it too difficult for federal agencies to combine foreign and domestic intelligence to figure out the big picture.
The reason those laws were written was COINTELPRO, a domestic surveillance program by the FBI which turned into political surveillance of persons seen as disapproving of the Federal Administration, whoever it happened to be during the existence of COINTEPRO. The Church Report’s summary described it as follows:
COINTELPRO began in 1956, in part because of frustration with Supreme Court rulings limiting the Government’s power to proceed overtly against dissident groups; it ended in 1971 with the threat of public exposure. 1 In the intervening 15 years, the Bureau conducted a sophisticated vigilante operation aimed squarely at preventing the exercise of First Amendment rights of speech and association, on the theory that preventing the growth of dangerous groups and the propagation of dangerous ideas would protect the national security and deter violence.
Many of the techniques used would be intolerable in a democratic society even if all of the targets had been involved in violent activity, but COINTELPRO went far beyond that. The unexpressed major premise of the programs was that a law enforcement agency has the duty to do whatever is necessary to combat perceived threats to the existing social and political order.
Well, it’s baaaacccckkkkkk:
The burgeoning use of national security letters coincides with an unannounced decision to deposit all the information they yield into government data banks — and to share those private records widely, in the federal government and beyond. In late 2003, the Bush administration reversed a long-standing policy requiring agents to destroy their files on innocent American citizens, companies and residents when investigations closed. Late last month, President Bush signed Executive Order 13388, expanding access to those files for “state, local and tribal” governments and for “appropriate private sector entities,” which are not defined.
National security letters offer a case study of the impact of the Patriot Act outside the spotlight of political debate. Drafted in haste after the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks, the law’s 132 pages wrought scores of changes in the landscape of intelligence and law enforcement. Many received far more attention than the amendments to a seemingly pedestrian power to review “transactional records.” But few if any other provisions touch as many ordinary Americans without their knowledge.
Follow the link. Read the entire story. Then consider whether the Patriot Act in its current form might better be named the Patronizing Act.
And remember Lord Acton’s admonition.