Patriot act
Forty-five days after 9/11 and with little debate, President Bush signed into law the USA Patriot Act of 2001 which authorized the use of wartime procedures to capture and prosecute terrorists. In such haste, many lawmakers admitted they had not even read the bill’s text before voting for its passage. This law reversed many of the restrictions which were imposed on the government after it was caught spying on private citizens and political groups in the 1970s. The patriot Act suspends many of the civil liberties basic to our democracy. It allows the use of military tribunals, racial profiling, and indefinite incarceration without due process or evidence of wrongdoing. It also allows law enforcement agencies to seize bank, telephone and e-mail records for counterterrorism investigations without significant oversight. Disclosures by former National Security Agency (NSA) contractor Eric Snowden reveal this agency has used the Patriot Act to justify the eavesdropping and collection of private communications between many millions of law-abiding Americans without a court order. The Patriot Act was due to expire, or sunset, in June 2015 but it was renewed through 2019 with the passage of the USA Freedom Act. A recent report by our Justice Department states the FBI cannot produce a single example of this surveillance program being responsible for foiling a terrorist plot.

Patriot Act supporters say we must choose between civil liberties and fighting terrorism, a choice of being either inconvenienced or unsafe. They believe the best way to prevent future abuse is to strengthen the congressional oversight of these agencies. Opponents say this law puts at risk the personal freedoms and rights embodied in the Constitution which, in the past, we have gone to war to protect. They wish to repeal the Patriot Act saying it is unnecessary because our usual civil procedures are capable of finding, prosecuting and punishing terrorists. They cite a recent court ruling as proof of the widespread abuse which has occurred under this law. A New York federal appeals court found a provision of the Patriot Act, known as Section 215, cannot be legitimately interpreted to allow the bulk collection of domestic telephone records. It ruled that NSA’s systematic collection of Americans’ phone records is illegal, saying the program "exceeds the scope of what Congress has authorized." In response, Congress and our President passed the USA Freedom Act which reforms NSA surveillance practices. This agency is now prohibited from storing the telephone records of nearly every American citizen. Instead, this metadata will be maintained at telephone companies where it can only be released under court order. Critics claim this reform does not go far enough in protecting our Constitutional and privacy rights.

Pending Legislation:
H.R.1466 - Surveillance State Repeal Act

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Poll Opening Date
February 13, 2020
Poll Closing Date
February 19, 2020

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