Since then, credulous and cowardly politicians have insisted that strict oversight from Congress and the judiciary would minimize violations of our civil liberties and ensure only legitimate terrorism suspects and foreign agents were targeted.
But we now know that government spying on innocent Americans occurs with astounding frequency and on a breathtaking scale.
Recently, Congressman Rush Holt, an outspoken advocate of reining in the growing surveillance state, introduced legislation to repeal the PATRIOT Act and restore our constitutionally protected civil liberties.
When the PATRIOT Act first passed, some of its most controversial provisions were only authorized for a number of years. The sun-setting of these provisions was nominally supposed to ensure that we would have a robust debate before they were reauthorized.
But Congress has allowed itself to be railroaded into rubberstamping reauthorization of the law multiple times. In fact, in 2008 Congress even passed a new law that retroactively immunized telephone companies that were illegally colluding with the government’s warrantless spying on innocent Americans.
The recent revelations about NSA spying programs makes this a good time to have the debate we should have had a long time ago about how to balance our legitimate national security needs with the vital role that civil liberties play in our democracy.
Since the leaks by Edward Snowden, even the original author of the PATRIOT Act, Rep. James Sensenbrenner, has said that the authority claimed by the government to spy on Americans far exceeds the intent of the law.
Repealing the PATRIOT Act will be an uphill fight. But Congress won’t restore our civil liberties unless we ask for what we really want.
The leaks and recent admissions about NSA programs have pierced the veil of secrecy surrounding government spying and created an opening for us to take action. Now’s the time to push hard and get members of Congress on the record and show them that there is grassroots momentum to take on this fight.
For far too long, “national security” has been both a way for the government to override civil liberties objections and a way to squelch debate.
But we must recognize that the surveillance apparatus created by the merging of our spy agencies with private communications telecommunications and Internet companies is potentially so broad and indiscriminate that it tramples not only our privacy, but endangers our citizens’ right to free speech and association guaranteed by the Constitution.
And the sad fact is that there is scant evidence that this wholesale intrusion into our privacy has done anything to make us safer.
We need Congress to repeal the PATRIOT Act and rein in unconstitutional government spying. Take action by clicking the link below to automatically sign the petition:
Thank you for speaking out.