Conyers: "An Anti-Civil Liberties Christmas Tree"
Congressman John Conyers today posted at his blog a discouraging report about how the House-Senate conference negotiations are going as to the final form of the Patriot Act. Remember? The Patriot Act was due to expire under a sunset provision -- so the Republicans, the Republicrats and the Administration have been working since Congress convened in January to prepare something to ram down our collective throat. As in -- "this won't hurt and it'll protect you from the dreaded bird flu thing."
Conyers says, "Obviously, I am asking my Democratic colleagues to oppose this bill. I am also trying to make sure the media gets this right."
We can't do much about "the media" -- but we can try to get the word out on Indymedia, the blogosohere and the grapevine.
MAYBE we can influence the votes of our representatives and senators in Washington, D.C.? MAYBE you could e-mail Smith and Wyden? JUST MAYBE this thing can be stopped?
"Patriot Act Becomes An Anti-Civil Liberties Christmas Tree"
by Congressman John Conyers
Wed Nov 16, 2005
Last week I wrote to you about the Patriot Act conference. Many of you asked for an update. Here it is and it is not good.
Early today, Republican sources began preemptively leaking descriptions of the conference report to various media outlets. The spin has been that this conference report represents a step forward for civil liberties. Now that I have seen the conference report, I can tell you that it does not.
Before I describe its contents, a word about procedure going forward. The House is likely to take up the bill as early as Thursday morning, and the Senate soon thereafter. There is not much time.
Throughout the conference, Democrats were excluded from negotiations about the bill, but the Bush Administration Justice Department was included. It is bizarre to say the least for a conference that is supposed to be between elected representatives to exclude those representatives and instead include a group with a vested interest in the bill -- the Justice Department. No similar access was provided for the American Civil Liberities Union or Americans for Tax Reform, groups with concerns about the Act.
As to the substance of the bill, it contains many illusory provisions that appear to be pro-civil liberties, but are really meaningless or steps backward. Here is a rough sketch:
No 4-year Sunsets for Controversial Provisions: On November 9th, this House voted unanimously in support of 4-year sunsets for only the most dangerous and controversial sections of the PATRIOT Act: intelligence orders, roving wiretaps and the lone wolf authority. The Senate bill contained a 4 year sunset. Unfortunately, the conference report includes only a 7-year sunset making meaningful oversight very difficult for the next several Congresses.
No Standard for Library and Other Intrusive Records: The Conference Report still leaves Section 215 of the PATRIOT Act, orders for any tangible thing (library and bookstore records, firearms, and business records), subject to only a "relevance" standard, allowing the government to go on fishing expeditions. It allows for a very limited right to judicial review that is of questionable value.
[NOTE: OVER 30,000 NATIONAL SECURITY LETTERS ISSED EVERY YEAR TO BANKS, ISP's, INSURANCE COMPANIES AND OTHERS!]
No Standard for Issuing or Meaningful Challenge to National Security Letters: Last week we learned that over 30,000 national security letters (NSLs) are issued every year to banks, internet providers, insurance companies and other businesses without court approval. However, the Conference Report provides no meaningful mechanism to challenge these letters in court. Even worse -- the legislation has no way ensure that the private information is destroyed after it's collected, letting it sit in government databases forever.
[AND GET THIS:]
It also imposes a 1 year prison sentence if you publicly reveal that you received an NSL.
[FORGET THE BILL OF RIGHTS!]
Habeas Corpus and Death Penalties: New language contained in section 507 of the Conference report makes considerable changes to the cherished right of habeas corpus. These alterations are badly conceived and hastily and poorly drafted. Under current law, a state is eligible to receive a special set of procedural rules for death penalty cases (rules that are advantageous to the state) if the state establishes an effective system for providing competent counsel to indigents in state postconviction proceedings. Currently, the determination as to whether or not a state's scheme for supplying counsel meets the statutory criteria is left up to the federal courts.
Section 507 changes this relationship and unbalances habeas corpus laws. Under this new language, states would no longer have to satisfy federal courts that their systems for providing counsel in state proceedings are adequate. The authority to approve state schemes would be transferred to the Attorney General. Needless to say, the Attorney General is the nation's chief prosecutor and thus is hardly an appropriate officer to decide whether a state has kept its part of the "opt in" bargain.
[MORE DEATH PENALTIES!]
In addition, the legislation includes numerous new death penalty provisions which are unrelated to the original PATRIOT Act.
No Need-Based Funding for First Responders: The House passed bill included first responder grant formulas that would have assured that areas at greatest risk would receive the most money. Supported by over 400 Representatives (Roll call no. 170), it is not in the conference report.
[PORK AND UNRELATED ADD-ONs -- the "CHRISTMAS TREE" for special interests!]
Various Non-PATRIOT Bills: Numerous bills that have nothing to do with the PATRIOT Act have been added to the bill, creating a virtual Christmas tree and violating House rules to pass a clean bill. Among other things, the Conference Report adds provisions relating to: 1) methamphetamines 2) the Presidential line of succession; 3) employment requirements and benefits of US Attorneys and US Marshals, and; 4) new authorities for the Secret Service. These may be good provisions, but this bill should not be the vehicle for unrelated issues.
Obviously, I am asking my Democratic colleagues to oppose this bill. I am also trying to make sure the media gets this right.
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