Wednesday, March 23, 2005


Courtesy of our industrious colleagues at Cursor: Remember all those Republicans with libertarian and/or paranoid leanings who used to fantasize about Bill and Hillary's unmarked surveillance helicopters? Some of them have finally noticed what's actually been happening under Bush:
An unusual coalition of conservative groups and the liberal American Civil Liberties Union opened a public campaign today to scale back the enhanced surveillance powers granted to law enforcement after the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks.

The alliance, Patriots to Restore Checks and Balances, urged Congress to modify what it called ``extreme provisions'' of the USA Patriot Act that expanded police power to conduct secret searches and broadened the definition of terrorism. Because 16 provisions related to surveillance powers will ``sunset'' on Dec. 31 unless Congress extends them, lawmakers are under pressure to take action on the law this year.

The group, headed by former Republican Representative Bob Barr of Georgia, also urged President George W. Bush in a letter to reconsider his support for full renewal of the Patriot Act.

Members of the coalition include the American Conservative Union, Americans for Tax Reform, the Citizens' Committee for the Right to Keep and Bear Arms, the Eagle Forum and the American Association of Physicians and Surgeons . . . .

In a report released to Congress last July, Ashcroft said the Patriot Act had contributed to the filing of criminal charges against 310 people and 179 convictions or guilty pleas as of May 5.

The provisions credited with helping law enforcement in many of those cases aren't among those due to expire. Also, while some of those cases targeted people accused of aiding terrorist groups, others involved more traditional criminal cases such as computer hacking and child pornography.

The use of the Patriot Act in what he calls ``garden-variety criminal investigations'' is among the objections voiced by Barr, who joined most congressional Republicans in voting for the law in 2001. After losing his bid for a fifth term in 2002, he became a consultant to the American Civil Liberties Union in its attempt to modify the law.

In a statement on the coalition's Web site, Barr said the debate over the law's expiring provisions should be just the beginning of a broader discussion of ``the growth of domestic surveillance and the simultaneous erosion of judicial review'' and of ``how the government is increasingly treating every American as a potential suspect.''

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