Magazine article Editor & Publisher

Getting It Right

Magazine article Editor & Publisher

Getting It Right

Article excerpt

THE 'PATRIOT' GAME

As Ashcroft goes on offensive, press needs to play catch-up

Since the USA Patriot Act was rolled through Congress -- with insufficient attention to its revisions of the Constitution by the members and the press -- I have been tracking the effects of John Ashcroft's handiwork, and the lack of media coverage of both its effects and the growing rebellion against the attorney general. Both themes are in my book, The War on the Bill of Rights and the Gathering Resistance (Seven Stories Press, available in September).

Last week, in defense of the Act, the White House began what The New York Times labeled "an unusual counteroffensive... to shore up support for the prized legislation" that grew out of the September 11 attacks. Attorney General Ashcroft plans to deliver more than a dozen speeches around the country during the next month in defense of the measure.

This followed a revolt in the House of Representatives, which culminated on July 22 with a vote of 309 to 118 to deny funding for Section 213 (actually called in the act "the sneak and peek provision"), which allows the FBI to go into your home or office when you're not there, and search and seize your property.

Under a warrant from the secret Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court, issued with only a government agent present and with lesser evidentiary standard than traditional "probable cause," the FBI can examine your records and hard drive, and insert the "magic lantern" in your computer -- a device that records every keystroke you make. During a subsequent covert search, the FBI can download that information.

There is no exception for a citizen who regards him or herself as a journalist.

Section 213 weakens a section of the U.S. Code which requires that agents leave a copy of the warrant, and a receipt for what's been taken when they leave. In those cases, the search then can be immediately challenged -- on the basis of a wrong address, or the agents exceeded the limits of the warrant. But under Section 213, no notice need be given for 90 days, which can be delayed indefinitely. (Previous pre- Patriot Act delays were authorized if, for instance, there was danger of flight to evade prosecution, but 213 applies to all these secret searches.)

Indicating the increasing bipartisan congressional distrust of Ashcroft, the successful amendment was introduced by conservative Republican C.L. "Butch" Otter (Idaho), a vigorous supporter of property and gun rights. He was joined by Democratic presidential aspirant Dennis Kucinich (Ohio) and Republican libertarian Ron Paul (Texas). …

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