Sunday, January 04, 2004

We told you! We don't abuse our authority! So stop worrying and shut up!

The San Antonio (TX) Current for December 24 observed that on December 13, while we were having our patriotism and integrity questioned if we were found insufficiently ecstatic at the capture of Saddam Hussein, George Bush
pulled out his pen and signed into law a bill that grants the FBI sweeping new powers. ...

By signing the bill on the day of Hussein's capture, Bush effectively consigned a dramatic expansion of the USA Patriot Act to a mere footnote. Consequently, while most Americans watched as Hussein was probed for head lice, few were aware that the FBI had just obtained the power to probe their financial records, even if the feds don't suspect their involvement in crime or terrorism.
Last spring, the Center for Public Integrity got hold of a draft of what became known as Patriot Act II. The strong negative response forced the White House to back off on introducing it; indeed, there were even some hints that it was just some ideas and was never really intended to be introduced.

Which naturally was nonsense. Instead, the decision was made to pass PA2 piecemeal. December 13 brought another piece, and our privacy and freedom are the meal.

What the Bushites did was to slip into the mammoth Intelligence Authorization Act a redefinition of "financial institution" as any business "whose cash transactions have a high degree of usefulness in criminal, tax, or regulatory matters." That could include, the Current points out, "stockbrokers, car dealerships, casinos, credit card companies, insurance agencies, jewelers, airlines, the U.S. Post Office," and more. Previously, "financial institution" meant a bank.

In addition, the administration is taking advantage of a change made by Patriot 1, which broadened the authority of the FBI to use a so-called "National Security Letter" to obtain financial records. Such a letter does not require going before a judge, does not require any probable cause, and does not require that the person targeted be suspected of any criminal activity. In short, the combination of these two provisions empowers the FBI to get any financial records it wants on anyone for any reason.
Moreover, the National Security Letters are attached with a gag order, preventing any financial institution from informing its clients that their records have been surrendered to the FBI. If a financial institution breaches the gag order, it faces criminal penalties. And finally, the FBI will no longer be required to report to Congress how often they have used the National Security Letters.
The provision's supporters say it's necessary to protect the public good - but of course that's what they always say. As the Current cogently concludes,
[i]f these new executive powers are necessary to protect United States citizens, then why would the legislation not withstand the test of public debate? If the new act's provisions are in the public interest, why use stealth in ramming them through the legislative process?
Again, one of my favorite quotes: Some questions need only be asked.

Pet Peeve Dept.: As a less serious but still annoying example of the "it's all for you" routine which the above gives me the chance to bring up, did you ever notice - I feel like Andy Rooney all of a sudden - how every time some website wants personal information from you it's "to improve your online experience?" You and they both know the real purpose is to target you with ads for things they think you're more likely to buy, so why go through the charade?

Footnote: Again, credit to Information ClearingHouse.

Update January 5: Edited to add a link to the Center for Public Integrity.

No comments:

// I Support The Occupy Movement : banner and script by @jeffcouturer / (v1.2) document.write('
I support the OCCUPY movement
');function occupySwap(whichState){if(whichState==1){document.getElementById('occupyimg').src=""}else{document.getElementById('occupyimg').src=""}} document.write('');