Tuesday, February 15, 2011

Reader Privacy: House Votes Thursday

For a moment, it looked like Congress was about to fight extensions of the U.S. Patriot Act.

On February 9th, the House voted against extending three particularly pernicious provisions that would give the government access to business records, as well as allow for roving wiretaps. A "roving" wiretap is one that allows for surveillance of a suspect even when they use a different telephone line, or e-mail address. The third provision, the "lone wolf" clause, enables covert monitoring of a non-U.S. citizen.

Well, pushing aside the Fourth Amendment which requires a search to be based upon "probable" cause, and one that is specific about "the place to be searched, and the person or things to be searched," and despite the fact that at least one highly vocal member of Congress, Michele Bachmann, claims to be a big fan of the Constitution, the Senate just voted to extend those provisions another ten months through December, 2011.

Less than a week after the initial House vote, FY2011, passed by a margin of three to one (three Republicans to one Democrat) to the chagrin of many Democrats who tried, unsuccessfully, according to The Nation, to get a motion passed to ensure that any future surveillance is in keeping with the Constitution.

The President, a constitutional lawyer, was onboard with Republican leadership in urging the extension on the grounds of "national security."

So, in the spirit of compromise, and working to eliminate another egregious provision, Reps. John Conyers, Jerry Nadler, and Ron Paul have written an amendment which they have added to an appropriations bill scheduled for a vote on Thursday. The amendment effectively prohibits the government from searching library records, circulation and patron lists, as well as bookstore records and files.

Further, the amendment will essentially eliminate Section 215 of the Patriot Act which, for all intents and purposes, has endeavoured to turn librarians and booksellers into shills for federal intelligence agencies.

It's been nearly a decade since a bill erroneously named after "patriots" first passed, and no serious measures have been taken to revisit, and revise the legislation.

If you think you're entitled to read what you want privately, and without big brother peeking over your shoulder, then show your support for librarians and booksellers by contacting your elected representative to insist they pass the appropriations bill on Thursday with the Conyers, Nadler, Paul amendment in place.