Have the feared abuses of the PATRIOT Act happened (yet)?

Ever since Congress adopted the PATRIOT Act, shortly after 9/11/01, civil libertarians have been crying doom – warning that the Act, with its broad grants of powers to law enforcement agencies with respect to wiretaps, library records, etc., will lead to the erosion of our civil liberties and right to privacy. They’ve also warned that it might be used to spy on and repress domestic political dissidents – i.e., they fear a revival of something like the FBI’s COINTELPRO campaign from the 1960s.

Has any of this happened yet? Has government actually used the provisions of the PATRIOT Act to do anything you would consider a violation of civil liberties, or repression of domestic dissidents?

If not, what do you think are the prospects something like this will happen in the near future (i.e., within the time frame of next presidential term – Bush’s second term or Kerry’s first)?

Well, as far as I know, Jose Padilla was locked up for a year and half without any legal representation and without even being charged. Eventhough he is a US citizen, he was declared an “enemy combatant,” according to the PATRIOT act.

And the case against an Arab graduate student which just started in Idaho is is based on the PATRIOT act.
So some infringement on one person’s civil liberties has occured, and the case against the student remains to be seen.

If they did, how would we know?

“Mr. BrainGlutton, we’ve used the powers of the PATRIOT Act to break into your home while you were gone and dig through your computer file-- D’OH!” :wink:

Does it matter? I don’t want anybody to have that kind of power, regardless of political affiliations.

Source: http://www.cbsnews.com/stories/2003/07/21/attack/main564189.shtml


Considering the size of this country - 293 million people - the amount of civil rights abuses, both by the government and by individuals, has been about as close to zero as can be hoped for.

I think that Americans deserve a lot of credit for handling this so well. Can you imagine how any of the theocracies treating outsiders as well as we have under similar conditions?

??? I don’t remember that being in the PATRIOT Act. I thought the new “enemy combatant” classification was invented by the Bush Administration’s executive fiat and not based on any statutory authority.

Haven’t heard about this. Cite?

If they did, how would we know?


We would know, if any criminal prosecution arose from the investigation. At least, the U.S. Attorney’s Office would have to give some kind of explanation (true or false, but at any rate plausible) as to where they got the evidence.

Not the point. We expect that we should be held to a higher standard. We are, after all, the foremost global agitators for human rights (or at least we have been occasionally), and that means granting them to our own citizens.

Is “somewhat better than a theocracy” the level of civil rights you’re hoping for? Most westeners expectations are way higher than that : “zero civil right abuses”. And though this is never truly achieved, at least they expect that the abuses occasionnally occuring won’t backed by the legislation in place.

What I think Plan B is getting at is the number of abuses seems to be very low when compared to the size of the country. Taking Duckster’s cite, and I’m only going by what he posted, we have 34 credible complaints for a 6mo period. Extrapolate that over the 2.5 years the act has been in place, that’s under 200 credible complaints. In a population of 300 million, 200 instances over 2.5 years seems pretty damn small.

You probably have a better chance of winning the lottery than being violated by the Patriot Act. Not to excuse abuses, but when one makes Chicken Little type predictions of civil rights violations, you need more than exceedingly rare examples to support those claims.

This reminds me of a discussion a class had in business school regarding quality control. While you can strive for 0 defects, it is usually not reasonable to expect to ever get perfection. The cost of doing so is too high. So we reasonably expect to get a small number of defects. In the case of the Patriot Act, I would reasonably expect to get a small number of abuses because people make mistakes. Whether 200 counts as small or not is a matter of discussion.

I believe the sparsity of abuses has more to do with the spotlight that is on the Patriot act than with the want within Bushco.

Load revolver, give to five year old retarded child. Wait five minutes. If child has not spattered brains over nearest wall, inevitable conclusion is that procedure is perfectly safe.

A couple of old threads on the subject (just the ones off the top of my head, with no comprehensive search):

“Did the U.S. mistreat 9/11 detainees? Report of DOJ’s Inspector General”


“Muslim Immigrants Rounded Up–any reason I shouldn’t be disgusted in my govt.?”

“More insanity from the Dept. of Homeland Security: where will it end?”

“ACLU filing class action lawsuit over “no fly” list”

Check out the DOJ report linked in the OP of the first thread – it’ll curl your hair. I also have a ton more stuff at work. And all this is without going into conspiracy theories re: why people are selected for the no-fly list or FBI questioning.

Benjamin Franklin

It makes no difference if there’s been one abuse or a million. The fact we’ve sold ourselves out is enough to make me sick. The Patriot Act is at best cowardice and at worst, the beginning of the end of freedom as we know it. We should be ashamed of ourselves.

It just occurred to me that there is a concrete way to measure this:
Compare the number of victims “abused” by the Patriot Act to the number of victims “abused” by the terrorists

Right now, the score is 3000 to 1
(that’s 3000 dead on 9/11 versuss one Jose Padilla( and, maybe, one Arab student in Idaho.And neither of them is dead)
Seems like good odds to me.
(and dont get into the Guantanamo detainees–we captured them in war,and they aren’t American citizens subject to the Patriot Act)
A friend of mine tried to use the old Nazi era scare :“First they came for the communists, and I didnt speak out because I wasnt a communist.Then they came for the homosexuals, and I didnt speak out, then for the Jews, and I didnt speak out because I wasnt a Jew. Then they came for me, and by then there was noone left to speak out.”
She is genuinely scared of Bush, and I told her she’s paranoid. She responded with the old “just because you’re paranoid doesnt mean the government isnt out to get you”
So I suggest–lets play paranoid for a minute, and count the number of people who are out to get me:

  1)     George Bush might, just might try to come after me 

Or: 2) Osama B.Ladin might, just might try to come after me
Which of the 2 has already happened, with deadly results?
Let’s renew the Patriot Act.


If they did, how would we know?

Not really.

The primary abuse that flows from permitting surreptitious surveillance is that behavior which in itself is noncriminal becomes criminalized by virtue ofa conspiracy charge. The conspiracy charge may arise from the surveilled activity bringing the innocent individual into a network to all of whose members any one particular person’s criminal acts may be attached. We would not necessarilly see evidence in the legal proceedings betraying the origin of the allegations of association.

Also, they lie.

For instance, the official position is “we haven’t done the library book atrocity”

How, as rjung says, would we know if they are lying? The librarian is the only other person who knows, and she will go to jail for telling.

That should make us suspicious. Most times, even if they don’t have to give you prior notice, if you ASK, the recordholder may, if she wants, tell you. Not here.

Ooh goody, can we measure the war in Iraq the same way?

Iraq: 10,000 dead civilians
WTC: 3,000 dead civilians

Result: Bush is more evil than bin Laden.

Please. As elucidator pointed out, the fact that it hasn’t yet been abused does not mean that it won’t be abused. The fact that you are so blithely willing to sacrifice the civil rights of people around you (not to mention your own) for what little measure of “safety” gained is disturbing.

Evil can also be measured by INTENT, and the probability that it will happen again.
Did Bush ever say he is glad that he killed civilians, and proudly declare publicly that he intends to continue deliberately murdering for maximum casualties.?

When our army kills, we genuinely try to minimize the damage.We bombed Baghdad, but left the electriciy working.
Trains in Madrid, discos in Bali , and twin office towers full of civilians at work aren’t on our target list.

I’d prefer to have a 100% free society without the Patriot Act.But I’d rather have a 99% free society with the Patriot Act, than a 100% defenceless society where subways, discos, and office towers get blown up every day.Freedom to check out library books anonymously isn’t much use if the library is closed because a dirty bomb made 3 city blocks radioactive.

It’s a slippery slope–but so are lots of issues in a democracy.(example : Abortion) I trust American democracy to discuss those issues and make intelligent decisions, safeguarded by the courts and the free press…

…O’er the land of the 99% free, and the home of the somewhat brave. just doesn’t sound right. I’d rather stick with 100% and take my chances.

Call me insane, but I can’t fathom how giving up civil liberties makes me safer. I was brought up to defend my freedoms and liberties at all costs. Our enemy isn’t in some desert shithole a million miles away. Our enemy is within.

Well, we all know from Bush’s speeches that terrorists hate freedom, and the reason they attack us is because we have so much of it. Clearly, his strategy is to eliminate the terrorists’ reason for attacking us.