Desperate Act: Congress went too far; now power is overplayed
Editor, The Times:
The U.S. Patriot Act, hastily passed by Congress following Sept. 11, 2001, was given little serious debate. Now we as citizens have the opportunity, the responsibility, to ensure that constitutional checks and balances are restored.
The Patriot Act threatens our fundamental freedoms by allowing the government to obtain information about our reading habits, finances and medical history without having any evidence of a crime. The law expands government use of "sneak and peek" searches, in which citizens are not even informed for weeks or months, after the fact, that their communications have been monitored and their privacy invaded.
The act allows law enforcement to obtain warrants through secret courts, without probable cause, and makes it a crime for librarians or even our own physician to notify us that the government has obtained our personal records.
Seven states and more than 370 cities and counties have called for Patriot Act reform. Congress should respond to these calls to remedy some of the excesses of the act. Now we must urge Congress to allow expiration of the act's most egregious threats to our constitutionally guaranteed privacy rights and civil liberties.
— Kyle Taylor Lucas, Tumwater
Paranoia's smarter brother
Last week, we heard members of Congress say they believed [the impulse behind] the Patriot Act was responsible for slavery, World War II interment camps and "minutemen on the border" (Rep. Sheila Jackson-Lee, D-Texas). So it is with great surprise we learn from John McKay that the provisions of the Patriot Act that are so in dispute grant law enforcement the same powers it already has to investigate murder, organized crime, "white-collar" crimes or drug trafficking, to investigating terrorism ["Patriot Act's tools no different than those used to fight crime," Times guest commentary, June 13].
I do not want a stupid and ignorant government kept blind by the paranoia we all feel toward "Big Brother." We must empower our law enforcement to use these powers wisely, as they have already demonstrated their capacity to do so for decades, while we must also have faith in the ability of our judges to tell the government when it has gone too far, as they too have done so.
If knowledge is truly power, then let us allow the government to use it equally for all crimes, and stop this partisan rhetoric.
— David Liber, Seattle
Behind terror's beard
John McKay is extremely misleading, at best. He points out that library records have been subpoenaed in past criminal investigations, but he conveniently ignores that the Patriot Act allows the viewing of library records without probable cause, and a judge has no authority to deny a request; there is no meaningful judicial oversight.
McKay asks, "Why, then, should law enforcement be denied this fundamental tool in its investigation and prosecution of terrorism?" Yet he conveniently ignores that provisions of the Patriot Act are being used for non-terrorism investigations.
McKay points out that "sneak and peek" searches have been used in the past and declared constitutional, but he fails to acknowledge that the Patriot Act significantly lowers the standard for when "sneak and peek" can be used.
I find no fault with the bulk of the Patriot Act, but there are a few sections that give powers without meaningful checks and balances that I find scary over the long term.
— Robert Bunney, Bellevue
A superfluous prop
John McKay writes: "For years, law enforcement has used court-approved tools to go after the mob, drug traffickers, gangs and other criminals. The Patriot Act allows use of those same court-approved tools to go after terrorists."
This begs the question: if "court-approved tools" already exist to go after criminals, and terrorists can presumably be considered criminals, why then is there a need for the Patriot Act to allow something that is already doable? I'm quite sure there is no exception in current "court approved tools" for terrorists.
— Ram Samudrala, Seattle
U.S. terrorist convictions are at 39, not the 200 stated by President Bush at the Highway Patrol Academy in Columbus. ["U.S. terror convictions overstated, data show," page one, June 12].
The biggest problem with cooking the books, something the president has done since Sept. 11, 2001: No one, not even the White House, knows for sure how many terrorist cells are in this country.
Honest bookkeeping, not the Patriot Act, is needed to keep track of terrorism.
— Tom Harris, Seattle
Sic semper tyrannis
Americans, wake up. Can we spread democracy to other countries when our own country isn't democratic? Our leaders have lied, worked in secret and used fear to stay in power. I watched the House Judicial Committee Hearing regarding the Patriot Act and it was anything but democratic. The hearing ended with the chairman of the House Judiciary Committee, Rep. James Sensenbrenner, R-Wis., taking the gavel, leaving the room, and his staff turning off the microphones, leaving only the Democratic representatives and a room full of stunned people. There was no motion for dismissal ["GOP chairman halts Patriot Act hearing," News, June 11].
It was stated that what Sensenbrenner did was illegal. If America is to survive, we need reputable congressmen and congresswomen doing good and honest work for America. Our forefathers put much work and thought into establishing a basis on which a free and democratic country could operate. Let's keep it a free and proud democracy.
— Mary Felkins, Orting
Exit stage right
Shame on you, James Sensenbrenner!
On the basis of this egregious behavior, I cast you into the same ambiguous but nonetheless ominous group of people our president calls "haters of America's freedoms."
If your ideas and proposals for the conduct of this nation's affairs cannot stand the competition of open debate with the opposition, please, sir, remand yourself to the role of citizen only and do so immediately!
— Richard Abercrombie, Snohomish
Is there a doctor in the house?
If the Democratic Party fails to make a mountain of hay out of the performance by James Sensenbrenner during hearings on the USA Patriot Act, then it is DOA.
— E. John Rupnick, Seattle
Maybe we should stop and consider what the flag symbolizes, rather than wave it around for a day and neglect it the rest of the year.
Our flag represents the relationship of the states, each one a star on the flag, contributing to the whole. There are no red or blue stars on the flag, just as there are no crosses or other religious symbols.
The flag is not something to use as decoration or as an advertising gimmick. It is not something to figuratively wrap yourself in to try to pass yourself off as a better patriot than your neighbor. It is not the property of any one group to the exclusion of any other.
Consider how you display the flag, and what you mean when you do. If you don't respect what it stands for — liberty and justice for all, including people who don't agree with your politics, who follow a different religious path or who love people of the same sex — take it down.
The flag belongs to all Americans, regardless of color or creed, with preference and prejudice toward none.
— Karen Isaacson, Woodinville