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Spy vs. us
Time to roll back the Patriot Act

Date published: 11/24/2013

The right of the people to be secure in their persons, houses, papers, and effects, against unreasonable searches and seizures, shall not be violated, and no Warrants shall issue, but upon probable cause, supported by Oath or affirmation, and particularly describing the place to be searched, and the persons or things to be seized.

-Fourth Amendment,

U.S. Constitution

JUST WHAT PART of the words "warrants," "probable cause" and "particularly describing" does the federal government not understand? It's time for the abuse of the Fourth Amendment via the Patriot Act to end.

The horror and devastation of 9/11 created a knee-jerk reaction in Washington that reverberates today: Congress, just six weeks after the towers fell, passed the Patriot Act by an overwhelming majority (the vote was 98-1 in the Senate).

Although perhaps understandable then, it's now clear that the secret powers given Uncle Sam are leading to abuses of citizens' freedom and privacy. The National Security Agency, we have learned, has been collecting data, without warrants, on the phone calls of every American, hoping to find a nexus to terrorism. The FBI, under the shield of the Patriot Act, has issued as many as 40,000 to 50,000 "national security letters" yearly to collect information on people. And Congress is letting the agency get away with it.

Even the chief architect of the Patriot Act, Rep. Jim Sensenbrenner, R-Wis., says enough is enough. It's time to rein in these surveillance programs. "Put simply," he says, "the phone calls we make to our friends, families and business associates are private and have nothing to do with terrorism or the government's efforts to stop it."

So why are they continuing? While the Patriot Act passed during the Bush years, the Obama administration has embraced it with a Soviet-worthy bearhug. In fact, it has expanded its use, citing a legal opinion, secret until just recently, redefining the word "relevant." Instead of the plain meaning, or even the "particularized legal meaning" of relevant, Mr. Obama's Department of Justice has said that documents can be "relevant" to a terrorism investigation if they may lead to another document that is "directly relevant." If your phone call to Uncle Harry may lead to his phone call to his doctor, which may lead to the doctor's phone call to a potential suspect, your phone records are fair game.

Reread the Fourth Amendment, at the top. Where's the probable cause? Where's the specific statement describing the "things" to be seized? Why are we allowing this to go on?

The Obama administration has made it clear it will not back down from its use of the Patriot Act unless Congress acts. The ball is in Congress' court: It's time for our representatives to serve an ace. Roll back the secret surveillance programs.