Friday, May 27, 2011
With a deadline ticking away, President Barack Obama gave the nod to lawmakers last night, when he signed a 4-year extension for the Patriot Act just before the stroke of midnight.
In essence, the Government's power to search records - and conduct wiretaps at whim in pursuit of terrorists - has been renewed with vigor.
"It's an important tool for us to continue dealing with an ongoing terrorist threat," Obama stressed, on the heels of affixing his John Henry with a flourish to the documents.
Presumably, the President dotted his i's and crossed his t's when he signed the binding legal documents.
Because Mr. Obama was in France when the deadline for signing the document into law was looming on the horizon, the President facilitated - what is referred as an autopen machine - to carry out the administrative task.
The instrument is rarely used and requires proper authorization by the sitting President.
Americans are still reeling over revelations that Barack Obama entered an incorrect date next to his signature in the Official Registry at Westminster Abbey a few days ago. For some inexplicable reason, the President was under the impression the year was 2008!
How time flies when you're having fun.
Or, was Mr. Obama having a Senior moment?
The Senate - dispute a few hot debates on the issues - voted 72 - 23 for the legislation to renew three terrorism-fighting measures.
The House later passed the controversial authorities 250 - 153 on a vote that stretched into the night.
Without the three authorities, the Obama administration argued successfully, that the FBI might not be able to obtain information on terrorist plotting inside the U.S.
Even still, the vote was held up for several days because one hold-out Senator - Rand Paul (Kentucky) - was concerned that the tools Law Enforcement sought would result in an abuse of privacy rights.
In essence, Paul demanded changes to the bill to restrict the government's ability to monitor individual actions without proper checks and the balancing of applicable rights laws.
The renewal action extends the Government's authority over the next four years, and allows for roving wiretaps for non-American suspects who may be "lone wolfs" working independently without any known ties to organized terrorist groups.
The wiretaps and Government authorized access to business records are small parts of the USA Patriot Act enacted after the Sept. 11, 2001 attacks.
But, unlike most of the act - which is permanent law - those provisions require periodic review because of concerns that they could be used to violate privacy rights.
The same set of principles apply to the "lone wolf" provision which was part of a 2004 intelligence law (some have accused was "rushed into" prematurely in the hysterical aftermath of the terrorist attack of 9/11 in New York.
Paul expressed his concerns that the some aspects of the Patriot Act trampled on individual liberties.
Sen. Dick Durbin (D-Illinois) fessed up that he voted for the act in 2001 "while ground zero was still burning."
"But, I soon realized it gave too much power to government without enough judicial and congressional oversight."
Mark Udall of Colorado was afraid that law-abiding citizens would be subject to unjust Government scrutiny.
"If we cannot limit investigations to terrorism or other nefarious activities, where do they end?"
"The Patriot Act has been used improperly again and again by law enforcement to invade Americans' privacy and violate their constitutional rights," added Laura W. Murphy, the director of the ACLU Washington legislative office, at one point during the heated debates on the controversial - but solemn - issues raised.
The provisions of the Patriot Act have kept us safe for nearly a decade and Americans today should be relieved and reassured to know that these programs will continue, added Senate Republican leader Mitch McConnell of Kentucky.
Intelligence officials at major U.S. Government agencies have denied improper use of surveillance tools, by the way.
FBI Director Robert Mueller warned in a letter to Congressional Leaders recently that there would be serious security consequences if the Patriot Act was not renewed.
"When the clock strikes midnight tomorrow, we would be giving terrorists the opportunity to plot attacks against our country, undetected," Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid said on the Senate floor Wednesday.
When President Obama signed the appropriate documents last night he sealed their fate in the final analysis.
Paul agreed to let the bill go forward after he was given a vote on two amendments to rein in government surveillance powers.
Both were defeated, however.