Life and Liberty (.gov)
In the car yesterday, I caught the tail end of a radio editorial by a guy named Dave Ross, who apparently has a talk show in Seattle and also does syndicated commentary for CBS radio. This particular editorial was on the government’s relax, don’t worry about your civil liberties site, www.lifeandliberty.gov, which is devoted to defending the USA PATRIOT Act.
Ross argued that if you’ve done nothing wrong then you don’t have to worry (loosely paraphrasing, “if you don’t like the idea of the government auditing your library records, check out different books”). He also argued for the converse: law enforcement officials would only be looking into your actions if you’ve done something wrong. Therefore, ordinary Americans have nothing to fear from this substantial expansion of police power. Not defined is who counts as ordinary, nor where the Constitution and Bill of Rights distinguish between the subset of rights afforded to all citizens and the full set of rights available only to special group of ordinary. When he argued that the “sneak and peak” provision that allows a search without notification was a good thing when used on ordinary Americans because they wouldn’t have to undergo the stress of knowing they were searched, I thought Ross was joking but then came to realize that he was not. (I can see reasons why such searches might be very useful, but this is surely not one of them).
Also in the L&L.gov website is a FAQ devoted to “Dispelling the Myths“. Each of the myths uses a complaint by the ACLU as the starting point. The first alleged myth includes this: “They [the ACLU] also claim that it [PATRIOT Act] includes a “provision that might allow the actions of peaceful groups that dissent from government policy, such as Greenpeace, to be treated as ‘domestic terrorism.” The government’s response to this allegation is that
Peaceful political discourse and dissent is one of America’s most cherished freedoms, and is not subject to investigation as domestic terrorism. Under the Patriot Act, the definition of “domestic terrorism” is limited to conduct that (1) violates federal or state criminal law and (2) is dangerous to human life. Therefore, peaceful political organizations engaging in political advocacy will obviously not come under this definition. (Patriot Act, Section 802)
Maybe it’s just me, but a broad range of activities not related to terrorism seem to satisfy criteria (1) and (2). Even marching without a permit could violate the law and be construed as dangerous to human life (causing traffic accidents or something like that). While I believe the Patriot Act was not specifically invoked, the Department of Homeland Security has already been used to track domestic politicians (Texas House Democrats). If the powers can be used against elected officials, is it really a stretch to envision their usage against less popular groups like ANSWER or Greenpeace?
In any event, for a quick laugh and a bit of a scare, take a look at www.lifeandliberty.gov and see if you’re convinced.
While we’re nowhere near this stage (although the government can now arrest and detain citizens indefinitely, without council or a hearing in federal court), this is worth remembering:
“First they came for the Jews and I did not speak out because I was not a Jew.
Then they came for the communists and I did not speak out because I was not a communist.
And then they came for the trade unionists and I did not speak out because I was not a trade unionist.
And then they came for me and there was no one left to speak out for me.”
— Pastor Niemoeller, arrested by the Nazis during World War II
The point, I suppose, is that non-Jews probably considered themselves “ordinary Germans,” with no need to be concerned about expanded police power.