Prague Twin

Sunday, August 05, 2007

Why I'm Against the Patriot Act

Here is one reason anyway: this article which was buried on page A17 in the Washington Post, just found it's way into my possession quite by chance. Here is a taste:

I resent being conscripted as a secret informer for the government and being made to mislead those who are close to me, especially because I have doubts about the legitimacy of the underlying investigation.

The author is describing the situation he finds himself in after being served with a National Security Letter (ACLU description if you prefer). The reason I used the above quote is that "being conscripted as a secret informer" is exactly the position in which many honest, law-abiding citizens of the country in which I now live, found themselves during communist times. Much like the author of this article, these folks were conscripted against their will to inform on others on which they possessed information. Much like the author, these folks were forbidden from discussing their coerced compliance.

This coercion has been highlighted as one of the horrors of communist rule.

Now it is reality in the United States of America.

How sad is that?



  • Please elaborate on how the two instances are similar.

    By Blogger Lysander Cadwalader, at 3:50 PM  

  • In both cases, the Federal police force had and used the legal authority to force citizens to act as spies for the government.

    In both cases, these citizens had to keep their status as an informant a secret even from their own families.

    In both cases, failure to comply with the order to spy, or the provision to keep their status as an asset a secret, could land them in jail.

    In both cases, no judicial order was necessary for the Federal police to act in this way.

    I hope this has been helpful.

    By Blogger Praguetwin, at 5:27 PM  

  • I hope everyone reads that Washington Post article you linked. And there have been 140 thousand of these NSLs.

    BTW, not only is this a good reason to be against the Patriot Act. It's one of the reasons I'm proud to be a card-carrying member of the ACLU.

    By Anonymous abi, at 6:44 PM  

  • praguetwin, you wrote:

    "The author is describing the situation he finds himself in after being served with a National Security Letter (ACLU description if you prefer)."

    The author's letter is woefully inadequate. I read the article and the Wikipedia link and the ACLU link.

    Guess what? There was no mention of the penalties for revealing the receipt of this letter. I'm betting the implied penalties are toothless.

    Obviously the author of the article pretended to feel as though Torquemada were likely to encase him in an iron maiden if he broke his silence. In fact, I haven't heard or read of a single case in which a citizen was subsequently prosecuted for spilling the beans.

    It is beyond beyond the bounds of rationality to believe that if the government issued 140,000 of these nutty letters that NOT ONE bold citizen would send his letter to the New York Times.

    Meanwhile, do you believe 140,000 people would submit to forced spying? I don't. If individuals are asked to observe the behavior of people who pose no rational threat, the observers will most likely take no action and when asked for comments, they will say they noticed nothing. The Sergeant Schultz response.

    Perhaps a few people might believe they have been deputized as crime-stoppers and secret agents empowered to save the Republic. They might go overboard. But I doubt that more than a handful of the 140,000 -- if this number is accurate -- would develop delusions of power.

    But it's clear to me the government wants secrecy to surround this effort because prying into the lives of innocent people can lead to lawsuits against the government on the grounds of libel IF news of the snooping gets around. The character of the snoopee will suffer from the public disclosure of the surveillance. That's all it takes to win a libel suit.

    Thus, the secrecy in the US is driven by very different motives compared with the everyday totalitarian state that would have no fear of retaliation from its citizens.

    On the other hand, a lot of money has been channeled to muslim terrorist organizations from "charitable" islamic organizations in the US. Some of that funding originated in Brooklyn, NY. I followed the cases. Millions of dollars were transferred to islamic countries. The illicit money transfers were uncovered by the FBI. Perhaps these letters contributed to the capture of the supporters of terrorists operating in the US.

    Meanwhile, speaking from experience, I can tell you that some Americans ignore court orders to submit computer files and records. It might surprise you to know that sometimes court-ordered actions are toothless scare tactics that subpeonaed parties should ignore.

    Frankly, if everyone who received one of these NSL communications mailed a copy to the NY Times, the practice would end.

    You wrote:

    "The reason I used the above quote is that "being conscripted as a secret informer" is exacting the position in which many honest, law-abiding citizens of the country in which I now live, found themselves during communist times."

    Nonsense. Since there is no private property in marxist economies and all things flow from the central government, the Czechs of an earlier era had plenty to fear from the country's leadership. In the US, believe it or not, the government fears many of its citizens. Why? For many reasons. You can be sure the reporter for the Washington Post who reported the story will not face a tribunal demanding his sources. The attorney who shared the intimidating letter with the Post not endure repercussions, and the recipient of the letter will go about his life without any real basis for fear.

    His mistake was waiting so long to spill the beans. Like the secrecy that surrounded the sexual abuse within the Catholic Church, if more people had made public declarations sooner, the madness would have ended long ago. So it would be with these letters. It seems to be starting now.

    By Anonymous no_slappz, at 7:09 PM  

  • Abi,

    Yeah, I guess that 140k is an estimate. There are reports that it is underreported.


    In all honesty, I haven't read your whole comment. You are the only person I know who would write a comment 5 times longer than the original post.

    But with regards to enforcement, you should know that the recent amendment provides for those who don't comply to be held in contempt of court. That means prison.

    By Blogger Praguetwin, at 8:26 PM  

  • The real danger here is giving the government the ability to take such broad liberties to invade the privacy of its citizens. The recip. of the letter may not be prosecuted today, but what about next year? If the government needs a wire tap or records let them produce the evidence necessary to get a supoena. "Absolute power corrupts absolutely." Allowing these acts to continue unchallenged makes us facilitators of this corruption.

    By Anonymous rockync, at 2:55 AM  

  • The biggest reason I have for being against the Patriot Act is the incredible secrecy surrounding Bush and the entire executive branch. Private citizens who don't want to be spied on are bombarded with "what are you trying to hide?" "You must be guilty of something."

    And yet there's an impenetrable shield surrounding our "leaders." Well, what are they hiding? Why are they acting so guilty?

    Who Hijacked Our Country

    By Blogger Tom Harper, at 4:23 AM  

  • praguetwin, the link ypu provided led to this final statement of the penalties for revealing the receipt of an NSL notice:


    Section 1510 of title 18, United States Code, is amended by adding at the end the following:

    `(e) Penalty- Whoever knowingly violates section 2709(c)(1) of this title, sections 626(d) or 627(c) of the Fair Credit Reporting Act (15 U.S.C. 1681u(d) or 1681v(c)), section 1114(a)(3) or 1114(a)(5)...

    ...(D) of the Right to Financial Privacy Act (U.S.C. 3414(a)(3) or 3414(a)(5)(D)), or section 802(b), of the National Security Act of 1947 (50 U.S.C. 436(a)(5)(D)), or section 802(b) of the National Security Act of 1947 (50 U.S.C. 436...

    ...(b)) shall be imprisoned for not more than 1 year, and if the violation is committed with the intent to obstruct an investigation or judicial proceeding, shall be imprisoned for not more than 5 years.'."

    In other words, POSSIBLY a maximum one-year sentence for blowing the lid off the secrecy.

    I'm betting that thousands and thousands of recipients have simply thrown these letters in the garbage.

    Meanwhile, one of the first paragraphs on the linked page notes that the recipient can simply refuse to respond because the request is too onerous and obviously pointless.

    As much as I dislike some of these tactics, it is also true, as was noted on the linked page, that al qaeda and other muslim terrorist groups are intensely violent and are intent on terrorizing the US.

    You can be sure there are muslim terrorists operating within the US. Thus, I don't know why anyone would willingly accept the obvious danger of ANOTHER 9/11 when it is possible to stop terrorists before they strike.

    When I read about law enforcement carting off Americans in the middle of the night for violations of the Patriot Act I will look closely at the charges. But so far, I there are no cases that I know of. That might be good news or bad news. But I think, on balance, it is good news.

    By Anonymous no_slappz, at 7:25 PM  

  • praguetwin, you wrote:

    "Yeah, I guess that 140k is an estimate. There are reports that it is underreported."

    That's a joke. There are not enough investigators in the country to manage 140,000 cases of Patriot Act violations.

    I would imagine the investigators could handle no more than a thousand cases, given the complexity of each.

    By Anonymous no_slappz, at 7:31 PM  

  • Over-reaction, anyone? When the guy said he was conscripted by being handed the letter, he was using the rhetorical device of hyperbole. You appear to have taken him literally. Although they have vague promises of future leniancy and payment, Confidential Informants are not conscripted. They volunteer. Calm down, chicken little. You don't have to turn in the defeatist democrat or face the gulag yet.

    By Blogger Roger Fraley, at 12:04 AM  

  • unlike men wanting to marry men, this is a dangerous slippery slope.

    This is more big government from the people that claim to be small government. Democrats are worthless as well.

    By Blogger Graeme, at 8:16 AM  

  • graeme, you wrote:

    "unlike men wanting to marry men, this is a dangerous slippery slope...

    ...This is more big government from the people that claim to be small government. Democrats are worthless as well."

    In other words the political system we have is worse than no political system at all.

    Perhaps you should compare your life, which I'm sure is relatively pleasant, to the life you would lead in a region that is truly lawless. You can find areas free of government influence in the northwest section of Pakistan, through almost all of Afghanistan, and in many parts of Africa.

    However, your comment seems to suggest you would prefer a nation of men who live in a state of anarchy. I don't know if you will have much luck finding a nation like that.

    By Anonymous no_slappz, at 6:45 PM  

  • Love your logic. If you don't approve of warrant-less wire tappings, you would rather live in a state of complete chaos.

    I doubt keeping in tact our system of checks and balances is going to cause our government to collapse.

    By Blogger Graeme, at 6:22 AM  

  • graeme, you wrote:

    "Love your logic."

    You should re-read what you wrote in your previous post.

    In your previous post you wrote:

    "This is more big government from the people that claim to be small government."

    Thus, you have stated your belief that the people who claim to support small government are liars. Okay.

    Then you say:

    "Democrats are worthless as well."

    Thus, if Democrats are worthless TOO, the means you believe Republicans are also worthless.

    Therefore, you believe Democrats and Republicans are worthless. Since Americans are represented by Democrats and Republicans, you have stated that our government is worthless.

    Since you previously stated your aversion and distate for Big Government, that means you favor the smallest possible government. That would be NO government. Hence, you would take your chances with anarchy.

    By Anonymous no_slappz, at 6:05 PM  

  • Actually, you are right. I think that getting rid of the government would be ideal. By government, i mean the career politicians and unelected bureaucrats. I system of democratically elected councils could still govern.

    By Blogger Graeme, at 8:01 AM  

  • Aren't these mostly "know your customer" provisions for the financial service industry? I haven't heard anything about the need to rat out my neighbor. Then again, the ACLU is in bed with CAIR, which might not be adverse to certain money laundering.

    By Blogger Publia, at 5:35 PM  

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