Caution flags are being lifted again as the Bush administration plans even more restrictions on American liberties than were contained in the USA Patriot Act. That act was passed in 2001 and gave the federal government greater authority, among other things, to wiretap without warrants and to seize property of those accused of terrorism.
The proposed new law is the Domestic Security Enhancement Act of 2003 and is being drafted by Attorney General John Ashcroft. It’s being called Patriot Act II, or Patriot II. The Center for Public Integrity, a nonprofit watchdog group, obtained a copy of the draft legislation and posted it on its Web site (publicintegrity.org).
In the center’s summary analysis, the bill would “give the government broad, sweeping new powers to increase domestic intelligence-gathering, surveillance and law enforcement prerogatives, and simultaneously decrease judicial review and public access to information. . . .
“The Domestic Security Enhancement Act is the latest development in an 18-month trend in which the Bush administration has sought expanded powers and responsibilities for law enforcement bodies to help counter the threat of terrorism.”
David Cole, a Georgetown University law professor, was quoted on the center’s Web site explaining that the USA Patriot Act broke down “the wall of foreign intelligence and law enforcement” and now Patriot II would, for law enforcement, “break down the wall between international terrorism and domestic terrorism.”
A section in Patriot II called “Expatriation of Terrorists,” center spokesman Bill Allison says, could strip someone of his citizenship for belonging to a terrorist organization, as defined by government — even if the accused person was born here and wants to remain a citizen. And under Patriot II, he said, “someone who engages in legal activities on behalf of something designated as a terrorist group could be held indefinitely,” even though the Sixth Amendment guarantees the right to a speedy trial.
He said Patriot II is being revised before being circulated on Capitol Hill. “It is being held back,” he said. “Congress has not been consulted on it. Are they [the Justice Department] holding it back for a more propitious moment? Are they revising it? We’re not sure.”
We hope Congress nips this new oppression in the bud. It should be examined closely, in particular by the Select Committee on Homeland Security, an oversight group.
We can be made secure from terrorism without shredding the Bill of Rights that makes America unique and keeps its citizens free.