I. Hagel’s Problems With the ‘Patriot Act’

Nebraska’s Senator Chuck Hagel on Thursday had the courage and foresight to stand between us – the American people – and the excesses and dangers in the ‘Patriot Act’.

He had some blunt words about the dangers of big and bigger government, according to today’s World Herald.

“The greatest threat to freedom has always been concentrations of power in government,” Hagel said in a conference call.

“When government continues to erode individual rights, that is the most dangerous, dangerous challenge to freedom there is,” he said. “Far more dangerous, far more dangerous than terrorism.”

The bill imposes a gag order on any person subpoenaed by the government over national security, denying him the right to talk to anyone about the inquiry, to seek legal counsel or even to discuss it with a spouse.

This is accurate; that’s what this act does. And I’m sorry, but I have to say, “Not in my America, you don’t!”

The World Herald article continues:

Businesses also can be required to turn over private records, and the government doesn’t have to explain what the information is for. Hagel said a judge should sign off on such searches, but the proposed bill doesn’t require that oversight.

Individuals cannot get information about why the FBI might be investigating them, he noted.

II. The “Police State Act”?

Clearly the Patriot Act went way too far. Those who call it the “Police State Act” were, sad to say, more on target than not. Are librarians and bookstores really a threat to the might of the United States of America? No. They are among our greatest freedoms.

The much greater danger comes through what are called “National Security Letters”.

Unlike the library provision, national security letters have been used thousands of times, although that fact has until very recently been virtually lost amid the intense discussions on renewing the controversial law.

The kinds of information the government can obtain through national security letters includes requiring telephone companies, Internet service providers, banks, credit bureaus and other businesses to produce often comprehensive and detailed records about their customers or subscribers.

[quoted from the LA Times]

The administration has not worked carefully to actually protect us from terrorism and the threat of terrorist acts on our soil. The recent report by the 9/11 commission made that very clear. [See the report card here.]

But the administration has done a lot to try to protect itself from our inquiring minds. As if Americans who care about what’s going on and want to understand it are the real threat! They are not! We have to remind ourselves repeatedly of the wisdom carved in the stone of the Nebraska State Capitol: The salvation of the state is watchfulness in the citizen.

“I don’t want to hear again from the attorney general or anyone on this floor that this government has shown it can be trusted to use the power we give it with restraint and care,” said Sen. Russ Feingold, D-Wis., the only senator who voted against the Patriot Act in 2001 …

Quoting Benjamin Franklin, Sununu [Senator, R-N.H.] said: “Those that would give up essential liberty in pursuit of a little temporary security deserve neither liberty nor security.”

[Thanks to an AP article printed in the World Herald.]

III. Here are some of the reasons various Senators and Members of Congress resisted extending the Patriot Act (or Police State Act):

Some members of Congress were swayed by [Sen] Feingold’s constant pressure on Patriot Act issues, and by the fact that the senator was easily reelected in 2004 after a campaign in which he highlighted his opposition to the measure and his concern for the Constitution.

Others were influenced by the diligent efforts of U.S. Representative Bernie Sanders, I-Vermont, and his allies in organizations of librarians and independent booksellers, who campaigned for three years to alert Americans to the fact that the Patriot Act allowed federal agents to collect information on the reading habits of law-abiding citizens.

Others, still, were convinced by the success that the Bill of Rights Defense Committee had in getting seven states and close to 400 communities across the country to go on record expressing concern about the damage done by the Patriot Act to Constitutional protections against illegal searches and other abuses.

IV. That’s pretty serious stuff. Thank you, Senator Hagel, for standing up for us even at political risk to yourself.