(With the upcoming 10th anniversary of 9/11 and the release of Dick Cheney’s memoirs, I’m going to look at two post-9/11 examples of federal government “activism” Republicans really love — the Patriot Act and Extraordinary Rendition — starting with the Patriot Act today and addressing Rendition later this week.)
Like seemingly most parents these days, my wife and I periodically use a baby monitor to keep tabs on our daughter when she is sleeping — just an old, audio-only hand-me-down from my cousin with an impossibly short battery life. It’s come in handy when we’re downstairs or in the yard, but it really only tells us if she’s crying or not since we can’t see anything. Limited information, but the important information.
Lately, we’ve been toying with the idea of upgrading to a video monitor, convincing ourselves that it will help us better determine if we need to take action or maybe prevent something bad from happening even if she’s not making any noise. Since we’re her parents, this clearly wouldn’t be a further invasion of her privacy. And besides, we know what’s best for her. I’m not certain, but I seem to recall Congressional Republicans saying something eerily similar when they helped pass the Patriot Act in October 2001, a remarkably bold expansion of the federal government’s powers and the mother of all baby monitors.
The original Patriot Act was split into 10 parts and was fairly comprehensive. Here’s a shortish summary of some of its key provisions, none of which exactly scream “limited government:”
- Authorizing the Secret Service to create a nationwide electronic crime task force.
- Authorizing the President to confiscate the property of any foreign person who is believed to have aided in a war or attack on the United States.
- Allowing the interception of communications if they’re believed to be related to terrorist activities.
- Allowing a suspect’s house to be searched while the suspect isn’t present, and only notifying the suspect of the search after the fact.
- Requiring banks to take steps to prevent money laundering and allowing law-enforcement agencies to collect information from banks.
- Increasing funding for border security.
- Banning foreigners with ties to terrorist organizations from entering the United States.
- Expanding the monitoring of foreign students.
- Requiring information and paperwork on individuals being investigated to be provided without probable cause or judicial oversight, as well as a gag order preventing those receiving the information requests from ever disclosing a request was made.
This is not an exhaustive list of everything in the original Act, but let’s put together a quick checklist, anyway. Giving the federal government more authority to access private information? Check. Providing the federal government with more tools to eavesdrop on personal communications? Check. Creating new government bureaucracies? Check. Imposing new regulations on the private sector? Check. Spending more taxpayer dollars? Check. This Act was no coy flirtation with government; rather, it was about as subtle as the Roxbury guys at a high school prom.
Furthermore, though several of the Act’s provisions have been struck down by the courts, much of the original Patriot Act remains in place today. 1And maybe it has lost a little of its luster, but by any quantitative measurement, Republicans still hold a candle for the Patriot Act. For example:
- 260 of 268 (97%) Congressional Republicans originally voted for it in October 2011.
- 237 of 287 (83%) Congressional Republicans voted for the recent extensions in May 2011.
- As recently as May 2011, 67% of Republican voters indicated they feel the Patriot Act is “necessary to keep us safe.” (And only 24% feel that it “gives the government too much power.”)
We’ve had a couple of close calls with our basic baby monitor (e.g., leaving it on in a room a visiting family member was using when we were having a personal conversation in our daughter’s room). However, I don’t think that will stop us from getting a video monitor. We can come up with all sorts of justifications, but, at the end of the day, our voyeurism will likely prevail. Plus, it will probably be good training for our daughter. Whatever Facebook/Google/Twitter replacements she’ll eventually use will erode away much of her privacy anyway, and the Republican-loved Patriot Act will take care of the rest.
(Bonus Question: What does USA PATRIOT stand for? Personally, I had no idea it was an acronym, but the official name of the Patriot Act was the “Uniting and Strengthening America by Providing Appropriate Tools Required to Intercept and Obstruct Terrorism Act of 2001.” As an aside, whenever I see forced acronyms like this, I can’t help but think about ROUS’s.)
- Many of the Act’s provisions were set to expire December 2005. However, Congress has passed several extensions of various portions of the Act, most recently in May 2011. ↩