Osama Bin Laden is dead, but will the Patriot Act live on? The Patriot Act is up for renewal this month. This legislation was initially enacted as a supposedly temporary measure in the wake of 9-11, but portions of it have been made permanent, and the remaining provisions have been extended four times and are set to sunset on May 27th. With the death of Bin Laden, it’s time for Congress to re-institute pre-9-11 legal norms, when reverence for civil liberties was a priority for both Americans and their government.
A key debate is brewing as the vote grows near: The right-wing will argue that Bin Laden’s demise is evidence that the spying regime was justified. We believe it means that it’s time to fix the Patriot Act once and for all. We must erase bin Laden’s ugly legacy, not extend it: By ending the PATRIOT Act’s erosion of our civil liberties, we can protect the freedoms that make America worth fighting for.
Progressives and Tea Party Republicans initially blocked a long-term Patriot Act extension in January, but a three month-extension was passed in February. During the interim, the House and Senate have held hearings on potential reforms to the expiring provisions. The authorities in question are:
1) Section 215 powers which make it easier for the government to seize records from people not accused or suspected of crimes.
2) Roving wiretaps which need not specify the devices or the individuals being targeted.
2) The “lone wolf” provision which reduces legal protections for certain individuals by applying the standards used when somebody is an agent of a foreign power.
These provisions were always unjustified, always an over-reach of the government’s authorities, initially enacted only because a terrorized citizenry was too fearful to prioritize defense of its constitutional rights. With Bin Laden’s passing it should be clear to all Americans: The era of the Patriot Act, of spying on Americans who aren’t suspected of crimes, of heavy-handed abuse of our dearly held civil liberties, must come to an end.
Nearly 75,000 Demand Progress members have urged Congress to fix the Patriot Act. In April 3,000 of them called the White House to urge President Obama to veto any bill that lacks sufficient reforms. Demand Progress aired an anti-Patriot Act ad on MSNBC, CNN, and FOX News earlier this year. Congress is hearing our calls, but we need to press forward this month if we’re going to win the fight.