The FBIs Secret Scrutiny

The PATRIOT Act continues to go from bad to worse. You can tell there’s a historian behind its drafting, albeit one who has replicated the most insidious parts of some shameful legislative antecedents; the Alien and Sedition Acts and the lettres de cachet. It’s even wrapped up with a sunset clause (recently extended) that’s reminiscent of the Nazis’ similar promise to phase out PATRIOT-like powers, except the sunset brought the first 10 years of the 1000 Year Reich. A warning to the history-buff legislator responsible for the current mess; For your sake I hope it resolves itself as it did for John Adams, and not in the manner of Louis XVI.

As it wrote the Patriot Act four years ago, Congress bought time and leverage for oversight by placing an expiration date on 16 provisions. The changes involving national security letters were not among them. In fact, as the Dec. 31 deadline approaches and Congress prepares to renew or make permanent the expiring provisions, House and Senate conferees are poised again to amplify the FBI’s power to compel the secret surrender of private records.

The House and Senate have voted to make noncompliance with a national security letter a criminal offense. The House would also impose a prison term for breach of secrecy.

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