Saturday, May 21, 2005

Expanding the "PATRIOT" act

EFF Obtains Draft PATRIOT Bill Bill Gives Justice Department More Power to Demand Private Records

The Electronic Frontier Foundation is a watchdog agency guarding privacy and freedom in the computerized age. They've obtained a draft of a bill that extends the USA PATRIOT act.

Some provisions in the PATRIOT act were set to expire soon (there was a "sunset clause") and this new act extends the expirey time of those provisions.

Some provisions in this new act clarify what the phrase "Terrorist" applies to. This might be a good thing, in that it's always been worrisome that Big Brother might be there labeling us all terrorists so that Big Brother can spy on everybody. What I see in the new act is a clarification that Terrorist applies to those who are committing or planning sabotage or "international terrorism".

The most worrisome of the provisions of this new act is establishing a procedure whereby the FBI can, in a terrorist investigation, can record what they call "mail covers". A "mail cover" is the outside of the envelope of mail being handled by the U.S. Postal Service. It also contains a provision to open "unsealed" mail, and record the contents, but one need not "worry" because "First Class" mail falls under the definition and protections of sealed mail. Unsealed mail includes second class, third class, fourth class, and international parcel post.

Follow the above link for more information.

Plan to Let F.B.I. Track Mail in Terrorism Inquiries ( By ERIC LICHTBLAU, Published: May 21, 2005, NY TIMES)

The proposal, to be considered next week in a closed-door meeting of the Senate Intelligence Committee, would allow the bureau to direct postal inspectors to turn over the names, addresses and all other material appearing on the outside of letters sent to or from people connected to foreign intelligence investigations.

The plan would effectively eliminate the postal inspectors' discretion in deciding when so-called mail covers are needed and give sole authority to the Federal Bureau of Investigation, if it determines that the material is "relevant to an authorized investigation to obtain foreign intelligence," according to a draft of the bill.

...The proposals reflect efforts by the administration and Senate Republicans to bolster and, in some ways, broaden the power of the bureau to fight terrorism, even as critics are seeking to scale back its authority under the law known as the USA Patriot Act.

...The F.B.I. has conducted mail covers for decades in criminal and national security investigations. But the prospect of expanding its authority to monitor mailings alarmed some privacy and civil rights advocates and caused concerns among postal officials, as well. They said the proposal caught them off guard.

..."Prison wardens may be able to monitor their prisoners' mail," said Lisa Graves, senior counsel for the American Civil Liberties Union, "but ordinary Americans shouldn't be treated as prisoners in their own country."