Police State/Civil Liberties

The Patriot Act is 20 years old. It shouldn’t survive to 21.

By Bonnie Kristian, The Week

Tuesday is the 20th anniversary of the Patriot Act, the sweeping authorization of invasive federal surveillance powers passed shortly after the 9/11 attacks of 2001. Congress should observe the two-decade mark by starting work to repeal the law in full.

Much like the Iraq War in 2003, the Patriot Act began with lies. The George W. Bush administration claimed its changes would be “modest” and “incremental,” characterizing the law as a means of taking “existing legal principles and retrofitt[ing] them to preserve the lives and liberty of the American people from the challenges posed by a global terrorist network.” As civil libertarians argued at the time and subsequent years have demonstrated ad nauseum — not least via the 2013 revelations of NSA whistleblower Edward Snowden — none of that was true.

Even the name of the bill was a lie. “Patriot,” originally rendered in all caps, stands for “Providing Appropriate Tools Required to Intercept and Obstruct Terrorism.” But the tools provided were anything but appropriate, and they’ve been used to fight the war on drugs more than the war on terror. In fact, the Justice Department admitted in 2015 that, after 14 years, the spying capabilities authorized by the law’s controversial Section 215 — which, until it expired last year, allowed the feds to secretly obtain communications records based on vague assertions of relevance to international terrorism — had helped crack exactly zero significant terror cases.

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