by William Dipini Jr.
American Reporter Correspondent
The Bronx, N.Y.
April 13, 2005
HIDE! THE PATRIOT ACT IS COMING FOR YOU
THE BRONX -- While I was occupied in the overcrowded men's room at school the other day, one of my eccentric friends accosted me - so boorish of him to violate my personal space - and, in a skittish voice, whispered in my ear: "The government has the right to search your home and library records, Wil, without letting you know."
I quickly recoiled in astonishment and said, "C'mon. Are you insane?" He rushed to the door. Opened it. Looked back and said, "You're an ignoramus, Wil, and who knows, in the future you may be seen as a terrorist in the eyes of the government for no clear reason."
The reauthorization of the Patriot Act is on a roll and those from the Left and Right of the political spectrum - especially the Left - are showing severe signs of schizophrenia.
All I know is that the Patriot Act was passed by the House 357-66, and 98-1 in the Senate, six weeks after the 9/11 attacks. The gravity and magnitude of the attacks pressured members of Congress to pass the Act with great velocity - to stand static at the periphery of a declaration of war by radical Islamic terrorists was suicide.
Since then, local law enforcement, in collaboration with the CIA and FBI, has disrupted terrorist cells and brought many terrorists to justice. Here's the nub: America is safer because of the Patriot Act.
But opponents of the Act embrace a different view.
The American Policy Center, Americans for Tax Reform, the Free Congress Foundation, the American Civil Liberties Union, the American Conservative Union, gun owners, and others, coalesced into one big happy family - the Patriots to Restore Checks and Balances (PRCB) - to gut several provisions of the Patriot Act.
They routinely argue that provisions in the Act, particularly Sections 213, 215, and 802, violate the constitutional freedoms and privacy rights of Americans.
Therefore, they have been disseminating lies to the public, posting erroneous information on their Websites, and inciting fear in the hearts of ordinary Americans.
Now, I understand how they feel. They are apprehensive that the Patriot Act may drive law enforcement to behave like body-hunters. Or perhaps the law will be another RICO, the Racketeer Influenced and Corrupt Organizations Act. Irrespective of their arguments, the problem I have with them is that facts are inconsequential.
For example, why are gun owners overwhelmed with trepidation? They can still purchase guns. They are not on the FBI's Most Wanted list. As long as they don't try to purchase hand grenades to blow up abortion clinics - an Imperial Wizard of the Ku Klux Klan was convicted for this - or try to blow up an Islamic center - the Patriot Act prevented this from occurring in El Paso, Tex. - they have nothing to worry about.
And what's the beef with Section 215? Section 215 means the right to solicit information. If law enforcement decides to search someone's records, they must first make their case in a court of law. A federal judge, not Attorney General Alberto Gonzales, determines whether law enforcement can search anyone's records - and they must always notify the individual first no matter what.
Here's my Section 215 conversation-stopper: According to the Justice Department and FBI, since the enactment of the Patriot Act, the FISA court has approved only 35 requests for Section 215 searches. The Justice Department has never used Section 215 to obtain library or medical records.
And - listen up, schizophrenics - the person who receives notification that his or her records will be searched has a right to an attorney and may challenge the court order. Attorney General Alberto Gonzales even supports amendments to Section 215 making that right become reality. Furthermore, he supports a policy review board to oversee the privacy rights of Americans.
I don't understand why Section 213 is deemed the most controversial provision. Law enforcement must always notify a person before his or her property is searched - only in emergencies can they request a temporary delay in seeking a search warrant. C'mon guys! It's not even scheduled to expire in December.
Opponents of the Act are so paranoid that they even suspect that if they march with gay men who advocate sex with six-year-old boys, they may be indicted for domestic terrorism under Section 802 of the Patriot Act. Attorney General Alberto Gonzales will fly like Smallville's Clark Kent from Washington to the protest, and lock up the protesters for domestic terrorism.
This is utter nonsense. These kinds of protests are not and will never be deemed domestic terrorism under Section 802. Read the Section sideways or upside-down, you won't find "pro-life protests" or "gay protests" in there.
Anyway, are opponents of these provisions aware that Congress has oversight over the whole thing under - I believe - Section 502 of the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act? Are they aware that Section 1001 requires the Department of Justice to report to Congress any violation of civil liberties? There have been six such reports to Congress since the enactment and still: no civil liberties violation.
Furthermore, no provision so far has been struck down by any of the courts.
Hmm... . What does this signify?
Opponents of the law have declared Jihad against a law that has protected our country from acts of terrorism; a law that hasn't violated anyone's civil liberties; a law that is crucial during a time where evil people wants to see the United States go down in flames.
The Bush Administration needs to make this clear to the American people.
William Dipini Jr. is a government student at John Jay College of Criminal Justice and can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.