Security and Freedom Ensured Act


In the ‘70s the FBI tried to get professor Morris Starskey removed from ASU because he was active in left-wing organizations (www.themilitant.com/2001/6545/654549.html). Last year they attempted to question a group of anti-war demonstrators just to see if they could get anything on them, for no other reason than that they were against the war (Washington Post 5/18/05). The pretext was that the FBI was following up on a possible threat. Documents that came out later revealed it was just that, a pretext. One protester, Sarah Bardwell, gained special attention because she is associated with groups such as Food Not Bombs and American Friends Service Committee (Quakers).

In New York anti-terrorism laws are being used far beyond there intended purpose, for such things as prosecuting street gangs (WP 2/1/05). The point of these stories is that there is a well known pattern in our history and the history of other governments. Inevitably some in law enforcement will push the limits of what is legal in intruding into the lives of ordinary citizens. This lesson applies to the so-called “Patriot Act” which is up for review. The act has a number of good provisions, and then a few stinkers that leave the door wide open for abuse. Abuse that will lead to scandals, and backlash, and ultimately work against making us safer.

Some in congress would like to expand the act further. Chances are you don’t even agree with some of these provisions yourself. One expansion the administration is proposing would allow the FBI to demand records (of internet activity, accounting, medical records, etc.) without so much as the approval of a judge or prosecutor. In a recent poll even Republicans opposed this idea by 58 percent (Washington Post-ABC news poll, WP 6/10/05).

To give an example of the act’s bad ideas, the FBI can demand a warrant from a judge without justification by saying the reasons are secret. They can then collect records from credit card providers or insurers or whoever, on everyone the company has records on. They can put a gag order on the company so they can’t even say there was such a request or even consult their lawyer about it (Wall Street Journal 5/19/05). The only ones who can oversee this are members of congress who get occasional general reports they agree not to disclose. It’s a secret within a secret within a secret within a secret. You don’t suppose that’s likely to lead to abuse, do you?

There is growing bipartisan opposition. Just last week 38 Republicans in congress voted with Democrats to try to limit one provision of the act (WSJ 6/16/05).

A bipartisan group of 38 legislators has proposed an alternative they call the “SAFE” (Security and Freedom Ensured) Act. It leaves most of the old act intact but adds a little more oversight. Among those supporting it are both Democratic and Republican representatives of Arizona (Pastor, Flake, Grijalva). You can find the full bill at the congressional web site, and you’ll find information on it in such diverse places as the Federation of American Scientists site (fas.org) and the Unitarian Universalist Association site (uua.org). The UUA site titles their article “Greens and Gun Owners Unite!” because both liberal and conservative groups throughout the country have opposed parts of the “Patriot” act.

Contact your legislator. Even if they’re already for the Safe act, the more support they can show, the better their chances of passing it.