Sunday, April 06, 2003

ASHCROFT'S KEEPING BUSY
From an Alternet story, Details of Patriot II legislation drafted by Attorney General John Ashcroft. Sure, it sounds like paranoid leftest ranting. But let's see how long conservatives continue to support these laws once a Democrat is elected President.

Constitutional watchdog Nat Hentoff has called it "the most radical government plan in our history to remove from Americans their liberties under the Bill of Rights." Some of DSEA's more draconian provisions:

Americans could have their citizenship revoked, if found to have contributed "material support" to organizations deemed by the government, even retroactively, to be "terrorist." As Hentoff wrote in the Feb. 28 Village Voice: "Until now, in our law, an American could only lose his or her citizenship by declaring a clear intent to abandon it. But - and read this carefully from the new bill - 'the intent to relinquish nationality need not be manifested in words, but can be inferred from conduct.'"

Legal permanent residents could be deported instantaneously, without a criminal charge or even evidence, if the Attorney General considers them a threat to national security. If they commit minor, non-terrorist offenses, they can still be booted out, without so much as a day in court, because the law would exempt habeas corpus review in some cases. As the American Civil Liberties Union stated in its long brief against the DSEA, "Congress has not exempted any person from habeas corpus - a protection guaranteed by the Constitution - since the Civil War."

The government would be instructed to build a mammoth database of citizen DNA information, aimed at "detecting, investigating, prosecuting, preventing or responding to terrorist activities." Samples could be collected without a court order; one need only be suspected of wrongdoing by a law enforcement officer. Those refusing the cheek-swab could be fined $200,000 and jailed or a year. "Because no federal genetic privacy law regulates DNA databases, privacy advocates fear that the data they contain could be misused," Wired News reported March 31. "People with 'flawed' DNA have already suffered
genetic discrimination at the hands of employers, insurance companies and the government."

Authorities could wiretap anybody for 15 days, and snoop on anyone's Internet usage (including chat and email), all without obtaining a warrant.

The government would be specifically instructed not to release any information about detainees held on suspicion of terrorist activities, until they are actually charged with a crime. Or, as Hentoff put it, "for the first time in U.S. history, secret arrests will be specifically permitted."

Businesses that rat on their customers to the Feds - even if the information violates privacy agreements, or is, in fact, dead wrong - would be granted immunity. "Such immunity," the ACLU contended, "could provide an incentive for neighbor to spy on neighbor and pose problems similar to those inherent in Attorney General Ashcroft's Operation TIPS."

Police officers carrying out illegal searches would also be granted legal immunity if they were just carrying out orders.

Federal "consent decrees" limiting local law enforcement agencies' abilities to spy on citizens in their jurisdiction would be rolled back. As Howard Simon, executive director of Florida's ACLU, noted in a March 19 column in the Sarasota Herald Tribune: "The restrictions on political surveillance were hard-fought victories for civil liberties during the 1970s."

American citizens could be subject to secret surveillance by their own government on behalf of foreign countries, including dictatorships.

The death penalty would be expanded to cover 15 new offenses.

And many of PATRIOT I's "sunset provisions" - stipulating that the expanded new enforcement powers would be rescinded in 2005 - would be erased from the books, cementing Ashcroft's rushed legislation in the law books. As UPI noted March 10, "These sunset provisions were a concession to critics of the bill in Congress.

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