Wednesday, September 06, 2006

The Patriot Act

On March 9, 2006, President George W. Bush signed the USA Patriot Improvement and Reauthorization Act. The Patriot Act, as it is commonly known, allows intelligence and law enforcement officials to share information. It allows law enforcement to use the same tools used against drug dealers and other criminals. The bill strengthens the Justice Department so that it can better detect terrorist cells and disrupt terrorist plots, and it brings the law up to date with new technologies. The legislation also includes toughens penalties for attacks on mass transportation systems and commercial aviation.

Law enforcement now has new tools to combat threats. Before the Patriot Act was enacted law enforcement organization were legally prevented from sharing vital information with one another. The Patriot Act helped to break down the legal and bureaucratic walls which prevented intelligence officers from sharing information with criminal investigators, to help them connect the dots before a terrorist strike.

The Patriot Act corrected certain double standards. Before the Patriot Act, law enforcement could not use the same tools investigative tools that they use to track a drug dealer's phone contacts to track terrorist's phone contacts. It was legal to obtain the credit card receipts of a tax cheat, but not to trace the financial support of an Al-Qaeda fundraiser.

Before the Patriot Act, the law did not account for new communications technologies such as e-mail, voicemail, and cell phones. For example, a subpoena to wiretap had to be obtained for each phone instead of being attached to a person. So if a terrorist could switch from one cell phone to another to avoid a wiretap. Now law enforcement can use what is called a "roving wiretap", the same tool they use to track drug dealers.

The Patriot Act allows law enforcement, with court authorization, to monitor data such as numbers called on a phone or to track web sites visited by the terrorist. It allows Internet service providers to disclose customer records voluntarily to the government in emergencies involving an immediate risk of death or serious physical injury. If a person’s computer has been hacked they can now request the assistance of law enforcement to monitor trespassers on their computers.

The Patriot Act makes it illegal to run an unlicensed foreign money transmittal business. This was necessary because terrorists didn’t use traditional financial institutions. They transfer money through informal networks which makes the money difficult to trace. Under the Patriot Act, U.S. banks, securities brokers and dealers and certain cash businesses are required to file Suspicious Activity Reports for a wider range of financial transactions. The new bill also increased penalties for financing terrorism and made it easier to seize terrorists’ assets.

The new Patriot Act created an Assistant Attorney General for National Security. This brings national security, counterterrorism, counterintelligence, and foreign intelligence surveillance operations under a single authority in the Justice Department.

The Patriot Act has been a success in preventing further acts of terrorism since it was first enacted in October 2001. Since then, the Patriot Act has helped law enforcement break up terror cells in Ohio, New York, Oregon, and Virginia. It has also helped in the prosecution of terrorists or their supporters in California, Texas, New Jersey, Illinois Washington, and North Carolina.

Due to political pressure after September 11, 2001, most Democrats voted for the original Patriot Act, signed into law by President Bush on October 26, 2001. The Act passed in the Senate by a vote of 98 to 1, and in the House of Representatives by 357 to 66.

But many of these same Democrats now oppose the Patriot Act. They claim the Act is an attack on our civil liberties. Their claims about the infringement of civil liberties are exaggerated and extreme. Since the Patriot Act was first enacted, there has not been a single verified abuse of any of the Act's provisions. The Patriot Act simply allows commonsense principles to be used in combating terrorism while at the same time safeguarding our civil liberties. The new and improved Patriot Act, signed in March, adds 30 new significant civil liberties provisions.

Key provisions of the Patriot Act almost expired last year, when Senate Democrats along with four liberal Republicans attempted to filibuster a proposal to extend the Patriot Act. Republicans warned that allowing the current provisions to expire could have devastating consequences. After a vote last year, in which the Republican majority fell seven votes shy pro-life the 60 votes needed to overcome the Democrats’ filibuster, Senator Harry Reid, the Democrat Minority Leader boasted, "We killed the Patriot Act" at a political rally. The crowd erupted in cheers.

The recent terrorist plot that was thwarted in England reminds us that we face real enemies who are determined to kill us. The Patriot Act is helping to keep America safe while at the same time respecting our civil liberties. It is not a matter of trading our civil liberties for the security. A balance can and must be attained. The Patriot Act maintains that balance.

Protecting national security is the ultimate pro-life issue. The Catechism of the Catholic Church, as part of its teaching on the Fifth Commandment in paragraph #2265 states the following:

Legitimate defense can be not only a right but a grave duty for one who is responsible for the lives of others. The defense of the common good requires that an unjust aggressor be rendered unable to cause harm. For this reason, those who legitimately hold authority also have the right to use arms to repel aggressors against the civil community entrusted to their responsibility.

The Patriot Act is one of many vital programs to protect national security that the leaders of the Democrat Party in the House and the Senate oppose. Others include the data mining program, the detention of enemy combatants at Guantanomo Bay, and the surveillance of foreign terrorists. Thus, in my judgment, the Democrats and a handful of liberal Republicans are unfit for leadership. If Democrats take over the House of Representatives and/or the Senate in November, America will be more vulnerable to attack. A Democrat victory will embolden the terrorists and the effects will reverberate throughout the world.

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