Obama, Congress extend Bush’s PATRIOT Act

A sticker on the back of a street sign expresses the disproval of the USA Patriot Act, a view shared by many Americans. Photo courtesy of FlickR.com

The USA Patriot Act of 2001 had several of its provisions extended for one year by President Barack Obama and the democratically controlled Congress Feb.27. Former President George W. Bush originally signed the Patriot Act into law with support from both parties in Congress shortly after 9/11.

The three elements of the Patriot Act that will stay in effect include court-approved roving wiretaps that permit surveillance on multiple phones, court approved seizure of records and property in anti-terrorism operations and surveillance of what is called a “lone wolf,” or a non-U.S. citizen suspected of terrorist activities. Section 215, which allows for the search of library records without probable cause, was also extended despite complaints from the American Library Association.

Obama’s decision to extend the Patriot Act provisions was not unexpected. However, FOX News reported that the extension was done “quietly” and with “zero debate or media attention.”

Senate democrats attempted to use a super-majority of 60 votes to restrict some of the more intrusive sections of the Patriot Act, but were not able to get enough of the legislature on board.

“Thrown away were restrictions and greater scrutiny on the government’s authority to spy on Americans and seize their records,” the Associated Press reported.

Chirag Bhatka, a 22-year-old Cal State Fullerton history major, voted for Obama in the 2008 election, but was disappointed over the presidents decision to extend portions of the bill.

“If he didn’t pass it, what would people say? If you’re against the bill, you’re portrayed as being anti-American. Obama doesn’t have the political courage to fight against ideals he knows are wrong,” Bhatka said.

Scott Spitzer, professor of political science at CSUF believes the law had multiple facets to it.

“On the one hand, I recognize that terrorism is a real threat. People want to do us harm, as we saw with the Christmas day bomber. The question I always have involves the court orders. The last president decided we didn’t need to follow the 1978 FISA – (Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act) – (a law that requires a court order to surveil citizens). If the court order part is going to be taken seriously, I’m for it,” Spitzer said, adding his belief that when the U.S. starts to sacrifice its freedoms, the terrorists win.

Representative Jane Harman (D-CA) claimed that there were abuses of the law under Bush and would not vote for an extension.

“While I strongly support using the most robust tools possible to go after terrorists, Congress must revise and narrow – not extend – Bush era policies,” Harman said.

The Patriot Act has been the subject of much controversy ever since its passing in 2001. Back in March 2009, the American Civil Liberties Union released a comprehensive report of Patriot Act abuses.

”From the gagging of our nation’s librarians under the national security letter statute to the gutting of time-honored surveillance laws, the Patriot Act has been disastrous for Americans’ rights,” said Caroline Fredrickson, director of the ACLU Washington Legislative Office.

CSUF criminal justice major Andrew Gaerlan, 24, couldn’t quite make up his mind when it came to supporting the Patriot Act.

“Sometimes I think we should do it. Sometimes I don’t. Sometimes I think it’s completely un-American,” Gaerlan said.

Republicans on Capitol Hill, however, vigorously defended Saturday’s renewal of the Patriot Act provisions.

“Recent terror attacks, such as those at Fort Hood and on Christmas Day, demonstrate just how severe of a threat we are facing. This extension keeps PATRIOT’s security measures in place and demonstrates that there is a growing recognition that these crucial provisions must be preserved,” said Senator Jeff Sessions (R-AL), a member of the Senate Judiciary Committee.

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