Saturday, April 21 , 2018, 9:08 am | Fair 62º

 
 
 
 

David Harsanyi: Rethinking the Merits of the Patriot Act

A discussion of the law would serve a useful purpose for conservatives

This week, the House of Representatives failed to pass a one-year reauthorization of three provisions of the USA Patriot Act, even though the Republican leadership tried fast-tracking the effort without allowing the traditional airing of grievances.

There wouldn’t be any piddling “amendments” or too much “debate” (so kinda like the process that brought you Obamacare). Yet conservatives have a number of reasons to open a discussion on the Patriot Act for their own good.

This administration, after all that grousing, supports the extension, and Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano cautioned Congress that the “terrorist threat facing our country has evolved significantly in the last 10 years — and continues to evolve — so that, in some ways, the threat facing us is at its most heightened state since those attacks.”

Hey, I believe her. And drawing from my vast reservoir of journalistic know-how (Googling), I’ve uncovered an astonishing fact: Every year since 2002, government officials have warned us that terrorists are becoming more potent, more creative, more resolved, more dangerous than ever — always intimating that if the public only knew what they did, we’d be curled up in our cellars crying. Expect that trend to continue.

Unlike many Patriot Act critics, though, I don’t view this kind of rhetoric as pure scaremongering. The spread of orthodox Islam has produced the likes of Maj. Nidal Malik Hasan — and less “successful” adherents with bombs tucked in chinos — and is a genuine threat to liberty.

But unless Homeland Security has invented a clandestine psychological weapon that has been transforming potential terrorists into incompetent boobs, I’d say that astute citizens and dumb luck have far more to do with our success in the war on terrorism on the homefront than the Patriot Act.

Let’s give Homeland Security the benefit of the doubt and accept that these “tools” have stopped horrible events. If sob stories about single moms living without health insurance are not sufficient grounds to accept that government can coerce us into buying insurance, why is the threat of terrorism enough for us to accept warrantless searches on U.S. citizens?

Americans often have an intuitive understanding of individual freedom — as well as constitutional expectations. Isn’t that what the Tea Party is about? There were 26 Republican defectors in the House, and it doesn’t reflect well on the rest of the GOP that in the throes of embracing original intent, Republicans try to ram through an extension of the Patriot Act without giving critics a fair hearing.

Was it the founders’ intent to allow government to demand any “tangible things” (the “business records” provision), which include banking or medical or library records, without the government’s having to let any court know why the information is sought or how it’s connected to a terrorism investigation?

Was it the founders’ intention to allow “roving wiretaps” — which seem like a necessity of the modern information age — to be used without identifying what the method of communication will be or even naming a person on the warrant?

Of course, there’s no need to be conspiratorial about law enforcement officials; they almost certainly aren’t abusing provisions for kicks. But precedent matters, and administrations change, and unforeseen events can lead officials to use existing law for unforeseen and bothersome reasons in the future.

Conservatives can make constitutional arguments and try to keep us safe. Surely, tweaking and revising the Patriot Act to guard against abuse is not suicidal. Doing so, in fact, would go a long way in showing the American people that they’re serious about the threat of Islamic radicalism because they’re serious about the values and liberties we’re supposed to be protecting.

David Harsanyi is a columnist at The Denver Post and the author of Nanny State. Click here for more information, or click here to contact him.

  • Ask
  • Vote
  • Investigate
  • Answer

Noozhawk Asks: What’s Your Question?

Welcome to Noozhawk Asks, a new feature in which you ask the questions, you help decide what Noozhawk investigates, and you work with us to find the answers.

Here’s how it works: You share your questions with us in the nearby box. In some cases, we may work with you to find the answers. In others, we may ask you to vote on your top choices to help us narrow the scope. And we’ll be regularly asking you for your feedback on a specific issue or topic.

We also expect to work together with the reader who asked the winning questions to find the answer together. Noozhawk’s objective is to come at questions from a place of curiosity and openness, and we believe a transparent collaboration is the key to achieve it.

The results of our investigation will be published here in this Noozhawk Asks section. Once or twice a month, we plan to do a review of what was asked and answered.

Thanks for asking!

Click Here to Get Started >

Support Noozhawk Today

You are an important ally in our mission to deliver clear, objective, high-quality professional news reporting for Santa Barbara, Goleta and the rest of Santa Barbara County. Join the Hawks Club today to help keep Noozhawk soaring.

We offer four membership levels: $5 a month, $10 a month, $25 a month or $1 a week. Payments can be made through PayPal below, or click here for information on recurring credit-card payments.

Thank you for your vital support.


Maestro, Mastercard, Visa, American Express, Discover, Debit

Reader Comments

Noozhawk is no longer accepting reader comments on our articles. Click here for the announcement. Readers are instead invited to submit letters to the editor by emailing them to [email protected]. Please provide your full name and community, as well as contact information for verification purposes only.

Daily Noozhawk

Subscribe to Noozhawk's A.M. Report, our free e-Bulletin sent out every day at 4:15 a.m. with Noozhawk's top stories, hand-picked by the editors.

Sign Up Now >