The PATRIOT Act was all about stopping terrorism, right? We were told that special provisions that ate away at our civil liberties were needed specifically to catch dangerous terrorists — and that the reason for such an abdication of our rights had nothing to do with simply giving the government more useful surveillance powers. Aaron DeOliveira points us to a fascinating chart that shows how often law enforcement has been using “sneak-and-peek” warrants. These warrants let officials search private property without letting the target of the investigation know. Again, we were told that these expanded powers were needed to stop terrorism. So what have they been used for? Take a look. +
Before 9/11, when politicians spoke of “patriots,” they usually meant soldiers. Now prosecutors and the FBI were reaching for the same vanity—that they were the hard tip of freedom—and the same license to pursue enemies without much oversight or meddling. When it was signed into law six weeks after the attacks, the act made it easier to wiretap American citizens suspected of cooperating with terrorism, to snoop through business records without notification, and to execute search warrants without immediately informing their targets (a so-called sneak-and-peek [P2]). Privileges once reserved for overseas intelligence work were extended to domestic criminal investigations. There was less judicial oversight and very little transparency. The bill’s symbolism mattered also, signaling that the moral deference previously given to the Special Forces would be broadened until it encompassed much of the apparatus of the American state. Local prosecutors, military policemen, CIA lawyers—these were indispensable patriots too. +
If you thought for a second that the PATRIOT Act wasn’t just an opportunistic measure to make it easier to violate your right to privacy and civil rights, you are shockingly naive.