Will there be a second ‘Act?’

Published 12:00 am Saturday, December 10, 2005

It seems our faithful lawmakers in Washington are close to reaching a deal on the infamous Patriot Act.

The United States House of Representatives and the United States Senate apparently reached a compromise on Thursday to extend the Patriot Act, the U.S. government’s anti-terrorism law overwhelmingly passed following the terrorists attacks on 9/11. The law expanded the government’s surveillance and prosecutorial powers, but this crafty piece of legislation is set expire at the end of the month.

Any time lawmakers pass a law that is set to expire in a few years, four in this case, I immediately become skeptical. Why is the law okay today, but not okay four years from now?

The most controversial provisions from the Patriot Act, authorizing roving wiretaps and permitting secret warrants for books, records and other items from businesses, hospitals and organizations such as libraries will be extended four more years if the compromise passes. These provisions will once again expire in four years unless Congress acts on them again.

The Republican controlled House would like these provisions to stay in effect for at least 10 years, but negotiators decided to go with the Senate’s idea of another four years. Many of the original Patriot Act provisions will become permanent under Thursday’s compromise and the White House is working feverishly to broker a deal to make sure the compromise passes.

Unfortunately for the fans of the Patriot, Senator Russ Feingold, a Democrat from Wisconsin, is threatening to filibuster the compromise.

Feingold was the only senator to vote against the original version of the Patriot Act.

&uot;I will do everything I can, including a filibuster, to stop this Patriot Act conference report, which does not include adequate safeguards to protect our constitutional freedoms,&uot; Feingold said.

Feingold is not alone in his dislike of the compromise. A group of six senators, including Feingold and fellow Democrats Dick Durbin of Illinois and Ken Salazar of Colorado along with Republicans Larry Craig of Idaho, John Sununu of New Hampshire and Lisa Murkowski of Alaska, have been working against the deal. This group said they will not support the compromise in any form.

The American Civil Liberties Union, as expected, is also unhappy with the deal and believes the legislation intrudes too far into the privacy of Americans. The ACLU referred to the compromise as &uot;sham&uot; and condemned the agreement. The civil liberties group contends that the compromise will continue to allow the FBI to obtain &uot;a huge array of extremely private records of innocent Americans&uot; with little oversight or limitation.

The compromise also makes changes to what are called national security letters, allowing the FBI to compel businesses to turn over customer information without a court order or grand jury subpoena.

The Senate is expected to vote on the compromise next week, which would provide enough time to deal with any filibuster threats before the Patriot Act provisions expire on December 31.

I find it ironic how many of our leaders in Washington keep telling the American people how important it is to bring freedom and democracy to the Middle East, yet they appear equally determined to erode some of our freedoms here at home. This situation reminds me of quote from one of this nation’s founding fathers and greatest historical figures, Benjamin Franklin.

&uot;Those who would give up essential liberty, to purchase a little temporary safety, deserve neither liberty nor safety.&uot;