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Tangent | Main | Priorities

September 24, 2001

Call To Action

Call To Action

I don't, and won't do this very often. The purpose of my weblog is to tell my stories, and let you know what I'm thinking about. I get on my soapbox, to be sure, but not like this, and not very often. But these are dangerous times that we're living in, and this is very serious.

The summary is: John Ashcroft is trying to force through laws that run completely counter to the Constitution and Bill of Rights, and he is doing it right now because we're all scared of terrorism.

But the terrorist threat will be taken care of someday, and these laws will still be around, for the gleeful abuse of anyone who wants to silence you.

I listened to Congress "question" Ashcroft today. I put "question" in quotes, because, as a member of the SAG Board Of Directors, and through serving on lots of committees there, I have learned to discern the difference between posturing and speechmaking, and actual questioning to help inform debate, and help someone decide how to vote.

What I heard today, on NPR, was posturing and speechmaking from the committee, not real questioning, because everyone knew what would happen: no one dares oppose this sweeping legislation that Ashcroft, Bush, and Company are asking for, lest they appear "soft on terrorism". We have seen the amazing success of a congress who refuses to be "soft on drugs", right? I mean, they've done a great job, right? There's no drug problem anymore, right? Our prisons aren't full of first time, non-violent offenders, right? Yay. Go Congress!!

The Electronic Frontier Foundation posted the following background today. I quote it here:

Attorney General John Ashcroft distributed the proposed Anti-Terrorism Act/Mobilization Against Terrorism Act to members of Congress after Monday's press conference at which he indicated that, among other measures, he would ask Congress to expand the ability of law enforcement officers to perform wiretaps in response to the terrorist attacks on the United States on September 11, 2001. Ashcroft asked Congress to pass anti-terrorism legislation including "expanded electronic surveillance" by the end of this week. The PSCSEA bill appears to be a "backup plan" for S.A. 1562; if it does not pass as part of H.R. 2500, it can be reintroduced separately in slightly different form as a new bill. Sen. Patrick Leahy is also expected to introduce a more moderate proposal sometime early next week.

One particularly egregious section of the DOJ's analysis of its proposed legislation (ATA/MATA) says that "United States prosecutors may use against American citizens information collected by a foreign government even if the collection would have violated the Fourth Amendment."

"Operating from abroad, foreign governments will do the dirty work of spying on the communications of Americans worldwide. US protections against unreasonable search and seizure won't matter," commented EFF Senior Staff Attorney Lee Tien.

Additional provisions of the proposed Anti-Terrorism Act (ATA)/Mobilization Against Terrorism Act (MATA) (whatever the final name will be) include measures which:

make it possible to obtain e-mail message header information and Internet user web browsing patterns without a wiretap order;

eviscerate controls on roving wiretaps;

permit law enforcement to disclose information obtained through wiretaps to any employee of the Executive branch;

reduce restrictions on domestic investigations under the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act (FISA);

permit grand juries to provide information to the US intelligence community;

permit the President to designate any "foreign-directed individual, group, or entity," including any United States citizen or organization, as a target for FISA surveillance;

prevent people from even talking about terrorist acts;

establish a DNA database for every person convicted of any felony or certain sex offenses, almost all of which are entirely unrelated to terrorism;

EFF Executive Director Shari Steele emphasized, "While it is obviously of vital national importance to respond effectively to terrorism, this bill recalls the McCarthy era in the power it would give the government to scrutinize the private lives of American citizens."

During the Congressional session considering the Combating Terrorism Act, which was introduced as amendment S.A. 1562 to an omnibus appropriations bill, H.R. 2500, Senator Patrick Leahy (D-VT) expressed concern that he was asked to vote so rapidly on such important legislation within minutes of receiving it and without conducting hearings in the Intelligence, Armed Services and Judiciary committees:

Maybe the Senate wants to just go ahead and adopt new abilities to wiretap our citizens. Maybe they want to adopt new abilities to go into people's computers. Maybe that will make us feel safer. Maybe. And maybe what the terrorists have done made us a little bit less safe. Maybe they have increased Big Brother in this country.

If that is what the Senate wants, we can vote for it. But do we really show respect to the American people by slapping something together, something that nobody on the floor can explain, and say we are changing the duties of the Attorney General, the Director of the CIA, the U.S. attorneys, we are going to change your rights as Americans, your rights to privacy? We are going to do it with no hearings, no debate. We are going to do it with numbers on a page that nobody can understand.

EFF shares Senator Leahy's concerns in this time of national crisis. EFF Legal Director Cindy Cohn commented, "These proposals significantly impact the civil liberties of Americans. We urge legislators to please slow down and consider the long-term consequences of your votes."

"I believe that deep in their souls, Americans understand that the reason this country is so great--is so worth defending--is because it is free," explained EFF Executive Director Shari Steele. "We should be very careful to make sure that any legislation that passes is truly needed to address national security concerns."

During World War I, the US Congress hastily passed the Espionage Act which was notorious for decreasing freedoms without improving the security of the American public, under which Congress granted the Postmaster General (who delegated it to 55,000 local postmasters) the authority to read any mail and remove any material that might "embarrass" the government in conducting the war effort.

So here's the call to action: Gohere, and write, call, fax, and email your congressperson, and let them know that this scares the shit out of you. EFF has sample letters, and a very easy form to use to email your government officials.

Ashcroft is seeking to broaden the definition of "terrorist" to include ludicrous things, that defy common sense. I quote something I posted at Fark today:

If I remember my American History correctly, the founding fathers that Bush & Co. are so gleeful to invoke when it serves their message founded the USA the way they did, because they felt that governments had a tendency to oppress their citizens.

Keeping our critical thinking pants on, and taking off our emotional, angry, freaked-out-because-of-september-11th-pants, let's think about this: things like a national ID card, backdoors for crypto, and expansion of search-and-siezure abilities for law enforcement have been things The Man has been trying vigorously to get over the last few years. Historically, government has taken advantage of times like these to expand their powers...and I don't like that.

Does it bother anyone else that we have an "Office of Homeland Security"? Sure, it's a good idea now, but I see the ghost of McCarthy looming just over the horizon.

Anyone who is not terrified by this cynical powergrab either doesn't understand the issues, is living in a dreamworld, or is George W. Bush.

Please, please, please, if you never do anything else I ask you, please, I implore you, don't sit on this. Our American way of life is in grave, grave danger.

Posted by wil at September 24, 2001 09:30 PM

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