Saturday, February 08, 2003

Hey kids! Wondering how much more Orwellian the situation can get in the United States? Are you thinking "the USA PATRIOT act was pretty keen, but I want more government surveillance on the citizenry"? Just plain worried about what your neighbour is doing, but not what your government is doing?

Well, I'd like to introduce you to USA-PATRIOT II: the "Domestic Security Enhancement Act of 2003". The Center for Public Integrity has the goods, and what a great set of goods they are:

Some of the key provision of the Domestic Security Enhancement Act of 2003 include:

Section 201, “Prohibition of Disclosure of Terrorism Investigation Detainee Information”: Safeguarding the dissemination of information related to national security has been a hallmark of Ashcroft’s first two years in office, and the Domestic Security Enhancement Act of 2003 follows in the footsteps of his October 2001 directive to carefully consider such interest when granting Freedom of Information Act requests. While the October memo simply encouraged FOIA officers to take national security, “protecting sensitive business information and, not least, preserving personal privacy” into account while deciding on requests, the proposed legislation would enhance the department’s ability to deny releasing material on suspected terrorists in government custody through FOIA.
All right! Looks like "disappearing" isn't just for Colombians anymore!

Section 202, “Distribution of ‘Worst Case Scenario’ Information”: This would introduce new FOIA restrictions with regard to the Environmental Protection Agency. As provided for in the Clean Air Act, the EPA requires private companies that use potentially dangerous chemicals must produce a “worst case scenario” report detailing the effect that the release of these controlled substances would have on the surrounding community. Section 202 of this Act would, however, restrict FOIA requests to these reports, which the bill’s drafters refer to as “a roadmap for terrorists.” By reducing public access to “read-only” methods for only those persons “who live and work in the geographical area likely to be affected by a worst-case scenario,” this subtitle would obfuscate an established level of transparency between private industry and the public.
Not only Orwellian, but also oddly silly... what's to stop people who "live and work in the geographical area" from letting others know what's going on? Unless they're forced to sign some sort of NDA? An NDA about their own government? Hey, there's a good idea!

Section 301-306, “Terrorist Identification Database”: These sections would authorize creation of a DNA database on “suspected terrorists,” expansively defined to include association with suspected terrorist groups, and noncitizens suspected of certain crimes or of having supported any group designated as terrorist.
As we've seen, the definition of "supporting any group designated as terrorist" can be extraordinarily vague. Sure, people who hand money over to Al Qaeda might qualify, but what about people innocently giving money to what they think of as charities? Is the U.S. government going to collect DNA information from all the Irish-Americans ("noncitizens", of course, just like enemy combatants, but read on) who have given money to charities that has eventually (unbeknownst to them) gone to the IRA? Or, for that matter, how does one define "support"? If they mean something like "moral support", then any Bush administration official with a relatively Coulterian bent might use this as an excuse to collect the DNA of every leftist/liberal they can get their hands on. (As long as they're not a citizen. Of course. But, again, read on.) Considering that the department of homeland security is going to be a patronage-driven Republican stronghold, I'd count on it.

Section 312, “Appropriate Remedies with Respect to Law Enforcement Surveillance Activities”: This section would terminate all state law enforcement consent decrees before Sept. 11, 2001, not related to racial profiling or other civil rights violations, that limit such agencies from gathering information about individuals and organizations. The authors of this statute claim that these consent orders, which were passed as a result of police spying abuses, could impede current terrorism investigations. It would also place substantial restrictions on future court injunctions.
So long, Judicial Review! It was overrated anyway. Despite the orders being passed due to acknowledged abuses, and despite the wholesale assault on the FOIA, and despite the widespread potential for abuse from the most politically-driven administration in decades (and any future administrations) and anybody who happens to work for them, it doesn't matter: they're simply not applicable in this Brave New World of the War on Terrorism.

Section 405, “Presumption for Pretrial Detention in Cases Involving Terrorism”: While many people charged with drug offenses punishable by prison terms of 10 years or more are held before their trial without bail, this provision would create a comparable statute for those suspected of terrorist activity. The reasons for presumptively holding suspected terrorists before trial, the Justice Department summary memo states, are clear. “This presumption is warranted because of the unparalleled magnitude of the danger to the United States and its people posed by acts of terrorism, and because terrorism is typically engaged in by groups – many with international connections – that are often in a position to help their members flee or go into hiding.”
Of course, since these are only suspected terrorists, this is essentially a wholesale assault on the presumption of innocence, and creates a huge opportunity for the government to use all that ill-gotten information to arrest people as suspected terrorists and hold them for indefinite periods of time. Don't worry. I'm sure this won't ever get abused.

Section 501, “Expatriation of Terrorists”: This provision, the drafters say, would establish that an American citizen could be expatriated “if, with the intent to relinquish his nationality, he becomes a member of, or provides material support to, a group that the United Stated has designated as a ‘terrorist organization’.” But whereas a citizen formerly had to state his intent to relinquish his citizenship, the new law affirms that his intent can be “inferred from conduct.” Thus, engaging in the lawful activities of a group designated as a “terrorist organization” by the Attorney General could be presumptive grounds for expatriation.
So now we have a government that can, at will, relinquish citizenship. Fortunately, the definition of "terrorist organization" is completely static, not open to abuse, and certainly would never be used as a political tool attacking marginal or radical political groups. I'm also sure that the section about the noncitizen DNA database and this section about summarily removing people's citizenship were not designed to work together. It's just coincidence.

And then there's this:

The USA Patriot Act allowed the Federal Bureau of Investigation to share information gathered in terrorism investigations under the “foreign intelligence” standard with local law enforcement agencies, in essence nullifying the higher standard of oversight that applied to domestic investigations. The USA Patriot Act also amended FISA to permit surveillance under the less rigorous standard whenever “foreign intelligence” was a “significant purpose” rather than the “primary purpose” of an investigation.

The draft legislation goes further in that direction. “In the [USA Patriot Act] we have to break down the wall of foreign intelligence and law enforcement,” Cole said. “Now they want to break down the wall between international terrorism and domestic terrorism.”
Which means, of course, that any domestic group that gets labelled as "terrorists" by overly excitable government officials gets the full "international terrorist" surveillance whammy. (It probably isn't a good time to be a member of the Trotskyist league right now.) I'm sure this won't be abused either.

"Wait!", you ask. "As long as there's a public debate over this, this thing is doomed! There's no way the American public would stand for this, because they love their freedoms and are constantly questioning their government! How can we be sure that the process of ensuring our safety and the preservation of our precious freedoms won't get derailed"? Well, kids, the trick is not to tell anyone:

Cole found it disturbing that there have been no consultations with Congress on the draft legislation. “It raises a lot of serious concerns and is troubling as a generic matter that they have gotten this far along and tell people that there is nothing in the works. What that suggests is that they’re waiting for a propitious time to introduce it, which might well be when a war is begun. At that time there would be less opportunity for discussion and they’ll have a much stronger hand in saying that they need these right away.”
Ah, what relief. They'll just wait until the American public is distracted and push it through without anybody even realizing. It's not like the media isn't on board; as long as they get their access to war footage, they'll be quiet as mice. Even if they aren't, they'll just get called out as the filthy liberals that they are by the patriotic folks at the Washington Times, Fox News, and all the other patriotic news organizations out there.

So let's all be comforted by the knowledge that President Bush Is There To Protect You And Your Precious Rights. We don't need to worry about this. After all, the terrorists hate us because of our freedoms: George said so, right? How could he not be carefully protecting our freedoms if that's exactly what the terrorists are trying to get rid of?

I feel so happy about it, I can almost stop screaming.

No comments:

Post a Comment