The Patriot Act’s surveillance authorities, long a source of concern for civil libertarians, are due to expire at the end of this month.
Instead of holding a serious debate about whether those authorities—which constitutional scholars and activists have suggested are in conflict with privacy protections outlined in the Fourth Amendment to the founding document—should be extended, the Obama White House and Congressional leaders are rushing to extend them.
Even more troubling is the fact that President Obama wants to extend the Patriot Act authorities—which permit US agents to conduct “roving surveillance” of communications, to collect and examine business records, and to target individuals who are not tied to terrorist groups for surveillance—for far longer than do House Republicans.
A new Statement of Administration Policy, issued Tuesday by the White House, argues that it “would strongly prefer enactment of reauthorizing legislation that would extend these authorities until December 2013.”
That stands in stark contrast to the proposal by House Republicans, who voted Tuesday only to extend the surveillance authorities until the end of 2011.
The White House claims the longer extension is needed to provide “certainty and predictability” for intelligence agencies.
But the longer extension also reduces the level of scrutiny and accountability that comes with a shorter extension, something that Obama—as a former constitutional law professor—should know is needed when walking the fine line between national-security demands and the guarantees of privacy provided by the Constitution.
The fact is that the surveillance authorities should not be extended in their current form—for the shorter period of time proposed by House Republicans or the longer period proposed by the administration.
The American Civil Liberties Union explained why in a letter sent In anticipation of this week’s planned consideration of the issue by the House.
Here’s what the ACLU Washington Legislative Office director Laura Murphy and legal counsel Michelle Richardson wrote:
On behalf of the American Civil Liberties Union, a non-partisan organization with over half a million members, countless additional activists and supporters, and 53 affiliates nationwide, we urge you to vote ‘NO’ on H.R. 514, a bill that reauthorizes three expiring provisions of the USA Patriot Act and the Intelligence Reform and Terrorism Prevention Act (IRTPA) until December 8, 2011. This bill reauthorizes and extends these laws without making common sense amendments to protect Americans‟ privacy. Because of the importance of this vote to civil liberties principles, we will be scoring this vote.