SAFE Act vs PATRIOT Act

A political story which hasn’t received too much publicity is that there is an on-going, grass roots revolt against the USA PATRIOT Act.

In a show of opposition to the PATRIOT Act’s assaults on basic liberties, five states and 372 counties, cities, villages and towns have passed resolutions, ordinances or ballot initiatives that condemn the act that was created former Attorney General John Ashcroft and express their commitment to the values expressed in the Bill of Rights.

The outcry against the PATRIOT Act straddles both sides of the ideological fence, as is evidenced by the fact that these objections came from both the so-called “red states” (Alaska, Arizona and Montana) and the “blue” states (Hawaii and Vermont), as well as from communities that are as diverse as Boise, Idaho, and Madison, Wis.

And the City Council of New York also expressed it’s concern by declaring that “certain provisions in the USA Patriot Act and related federal actions unduly infringe upon fundamental rights and liberties.”

In all, it’s estimated that nearly 56,000,000 American citizens have given their disapproval of the PATRIOT Act and have indicated that they want Congress to clean up the constitutional quagmire that has been created by the Justice Department and a pliant House and Senate in the aftermath of the September 11, 2001, attacks on the World Trade Center and the Pentagon. Many of Amercians now recognize the same thing that the members of the Durham County, NC Board of Supervisors have, that “while (there may be a) need for laws to protect the citizens of Durham County and the United States from terrorists, these laws should not be used to invade the privacy of United States citizens or conduct illicit covert surveillance of ordinary Americans.”

Although the majority of the media has neglected to hear the cries of dissent, there are several senators who have.

Earlier this week, Sen. Russ Feingold, D-Wis.,who was the only member opposing the PATRIOT Act back in 2001, introduced a revised version of the Security and Freedom Enhancement (SAFE) Act, which is a measure that is designed to address the worst excesses of the PATRIOT Act.

This time, Senator Feingold does not stand alone.

Along with Senators Larry Craig, R-ID, and Dick Durbin, D-IL. at his side, Senator Feingold explained, “When I decided to vote against the USA Patriot Act in October 2001, I never could have imagined that as we embark on the reauthorization process, I would be standing here today with this distinguished, bipartisan group of senators and individuals, announcing the reintroduction of a bill that goes so far in providing the checks and balances that were missing from the Patriot Act at the time of its initial passage.”

Senator Feingold was correct that a significant change in the public discourse regarding the PATRIOT Act has taken place. Even though most of the media has failed report the story, the pressure from grass roots organizations has gotten Congress moving. And the SAFE Act is a very sound vehicle for that movement.

“The SAFE Act takes the right approach: It permits the government to conduct necessary surveillance, but only within a framework of accountability and oversight,” explained Feingold. “It ensures both that our government has the tools to keep us safe, and that the privacy and civil liberties of innocent Americans will be protected. I am particularly gratified that this bill fixes some of the problems that I identified when we passed the Patriot Act. ‘Sneak and peek’ searches, the need for reasonable limits on the FBI’s use of roving wiretaps, and access to business records were issues I first raised in the fall of 2001 as some of the reasons why I believed the Patriot Act was flawed and threatened fundamental constitutional rights and protections.

“The new version of the SAFE Act that we are introducing also fixes other parts of the Patriot Act that threaten civil liberties. It ensures that recipients of secret business records orders can challenge them in court. It ensures that the FBI cannot use national security letters, which FBI agents issue with no judicial supervision, to go on fishing expeditions for information about innocent Americans. It ensures that the FBI does not obtain sensitive information about our Internet usage without satisfying an appropriate standard. It ensures that environmental protesters or abortion protesters who engage in civil disobedience are not labeled terrorists. And it ensures that the FBI provides some very limited public reporting regarding its secret intelligence surveillance authority.”

In other words, the SAFE Act does exactly what American citizens have asked Congress to do.

This is how our legislative process is supposed to work, with dissent rising up from grass roots to Washington.

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