Part of the U.S.A. Patriot Act allows the Director of the FBI to ask a secret court for permission to seize or demand “any tangible thing” from any person or place in the U.S. as long as it’s part of an “investigation to protect against international terrorism or clandestine intelligence activities.” What’s wrong with this? According to the U.S. Constitution, searches must be based on “probable cause,” and according to longstanding American jurisprudence be obtained by asking a judge for a warrant. The PATIOT Act requires neither the same legal standard, or the warrant. And admitting you’ve turned over any materials is itself a felony. The ACLU of Michigan has challeged this provision of the act, the first such challenge in the nation:
“DETROIT (AP) — The USA Patriot Act gives federal agents unlimited and unconstitutional authority to secretly seize library reading lists and other personal records, civil liberties advocates told a judge Wednesday.
A U.S. district judge in Detroit heard arguments in the first legal challenge to part of the Patriot Act that lets agents obtain library reading lists, medical information and other personal records.
The American Civil Liberties Union filed the lawsuit in July on behalf of the Muslim Community Association of Ann Arbor and five other nonprofit groups. The U.S. government asks that the case be dismissed, saying there is no basis for the plaintiffs’ complaints since the provision being challenged has never been used.
The ACLU says its clients have already been hurt by the Patriot Act because fear of the law has kept many people from attending religious services and making charitable donations.
The Muslim Community Association of Ann Arbor said in an affidavit that mosque attendance had dropped dramatically and that donations to the group are about half of what they were before 2001.
A member of the association, Homam Albaroudi, said few people want to take leadership roles since the Patriot Act and the organization has had difficulty filling offices.
“Two or three years ago, people competed to get offices,” he said after the hearing.”
USA PATRIOT Act, Section 215:
” (a)(1) The Director of the Federal Bureau of Investigation or a designee of the Director (whose rank shall be no lower than Assistant Special Agent in Charge) may make an application for an order requiring the production of any tangible things (including books, records, papers, documents, and other items) for an investigation to protect against international terrorism or clandestine intelligence activities, provided that such investigation of a United States person is not conducted solely upon the basis of activities protected by the first amendment to the Constitution. … “
U.S. Constitution, Amendment IV:
“The right of the people to be secure in their persons, houses, papers, and effects, against unreasonable searches and seizures, shall not be violated, and no warrants shall issue, but upon probable cause, supported by oath or affirmation, and particularly describing the place to be searched, and the persons or things to be seized”
And this, on the secret court known as “FISA”:
” … In weighing eavesdrop requests, the special court, which was created by the 1978 Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act and was recently expanded from to 11 members from 7, is responsible for enforcing provisions of the law that limit the sharing of electronic surveillance from intelligence or terrorism cases with criminal investigators; the limitations are intended to uphold the Fourth Amendment, which prohibits unreasonable search and seizure.
Because the standards of evidence required for electronic surveillance are much lower in many intelligence investigations than in criminal investigations, the authors of the law wanted to prevent the dissemination of intelligence information to criminal investigators or prosecutors. But in a number of cases, the court said, the F.B.I. and the Justice Department had made “erroneous statements” in eavesdropping applications about “the separation of the overlapping intelligence and criminal investigators and the unauthorized sharing of FISA information with F.B.I. criminal investigators and assistant U.S. attorneys.” …
Lest we forget, the FBI has a long history of domestic surveillance, harrassment, and occasionally assassination of a wide variety of radicals and dissidents in the U.S. in the COINTELPRO program and others, activities which have included the tapping of Martin Luther King’s telephone, and the assassination of activist Fred Hampton.