House Takes Aim at Patriot Act Secret Searches
Tuesday, July 22, 2003; 10:09 PM
By Andrew Clark
WASHINGTON (Reuters) - The U.S. House of Representatives voted overwhelmingly on Tuesday to roll back a key provision, which allows the government to conduct secret "sneak and peek" searches of private property, of a sweeping anti-terrorism law passed soon after the Sept. 11 attacks.
The House voted 309-118 to attach the provision to a $37.9 billion bill funding the departments of Commerce, State and Justice. It would be the first change in the controversial USA Patriot Act since the law was enacted in October, 2001.
The move would block the Justice Department from using any funds to take advantage of the section of the act that allows it to secretly search the homes of suspects and only inform them later that a warrant had been issued to do so.
Supporters of the change say that violates both the U.S. Constitution and the long-standing common law "knock and announce" principle -- which states the government cannot enter or search private property without first notifying the owner.
"Not only does this provision allow the seizure of personal and business records without notification, but it also opens the door to nationwide search warrants and allowing the CIA and NSA to operate domestically," said the amendment's sponsor, Idaho Republican Rep. C.L. "Butch" Otter.
The Justice Department recently told Congress that it had already executed 47 "sneak and peek" searches and had sought to delay notification of search warrants in a total of 250 cases, said Ohio Democratic Rep. Dennis Kucinich.
"I would suggest to you that just one would constitute a threat to our Bill of Rights," he said.
The Patriot Act, which granted broad new powers to U.S. law enforcers, was passed by Congress with little debate in the immediate aftermath of Sept. 11 and signed into law by President Bush just six weeks after the attacks.
Since then, it has come under increasing criticism from lawmakers and civil liberties advocates from both ends of the political spectrum. The House is now expected to pass the broader spending bill on Wednesday.
"Given its overwhelming passage this evening, the amendment is highly significant and a herald of more fix-Patriot measures to come," said Laura Murphy, director of the American Civil Liberties Union's Washington legislative office.
U.S. Attorney General John Ashcroft -- who has become a lightning rod for concerns over the possible erosion of U.S. civil liberties -- defended the Patriot Act on Monday, saying criticism of it was based on exaggerations and falsehoods.
I'm telling you guys.... John Ashcroft is no friend of the Constitution or the Bill of Rights.
I'm glad to see this roll-back measure. Unfortunately, it's too little too late. All it does is prevent them from using funds to do it.... it doesn't prevent them from doing it in principle.
And the "no-knock" warrants have been used for years by the DEA. Do you think they're going to change that? I doubt it. So, essentially they're saying it's OK to violate our rights in some cases but not in others.
I never thought I would find myself in agreement with the ACLU. What a world we live in today!
Of course they are! That is so typical of the political mentality these days. All the major political bigwigs who are out there trying to ban guns have armed bodyguards. It's a double standard.
If you follow the thought process, banning guns really comes down to the communist mentality. The "people" are not to be trusted. They should do as we say, not as we do. Keep them in line, disarm them, fill them full of propaganda to keep their minds occupied. Meanwhile, the leaders can do as they please because they are in an elevated class of society than the unwashed masses.