The Patriot Act: 'Any Law can be Abused'

The Honorable James Sensenbrenner (R-WI) said Friday on Fox News that "Any law can be abused."  He was referring to the Patriot Act.  The congressman was being a tad glib in characterizing the Patriot Act - his creation - as "any law."  It most certainly isn't any law, and its abuse seems inevitable in light of the revelations about indiscriminately sweeping up phone call data from Americans, regardless any suspicion of terrorist intent.

To Sensenbrenner's credit, he's condemned the abuse of the Patriot Act as an "overreach and dragnet."  Yet, in the Fox News interview, the congressman also said that this is what happens when "people think that big government is good."  Sensenbrenner characterized the abuse as "Orwellian." 

But Sensenbrenner's concern about Orwellian big government abusing the Patriot Act begs the question: "What was the congressman thinking when he wrote the law in the first place?" 

The Patriot Act isn't some clean air and water regulation that the EPA is misusing; it's a national security law that permits the federal government - the executive branch, in particular - broader discretion in operating against the nation's enemies (jihadist Muslims, primarily) domestically.

But Sensenbrenner's concern about Orwellian big government abusing the Patriot Act begs the question: "What was the congressman thinking when he wrote the law in the first place?" 

The Patriot Act isn't some clean air and water regulation that the EPA is misusing; it's a national security law that permits the federal government - the executive branch, in particular - broader discretion in operating against the nation's enemies (jihadist Muslims, primarily) domestically.

The federal government wasn't much smaller when the Patriot Act was adopted back in 2001.  The era of big government began in the 1930s.  The federal government has only grown hugely since; it's inexorably become more intrusive and controlling, down to dictating school cafeteria menus.  It was in this context that Representative Sensenbrenner drafted his legislation.      

The latest revelations about the IRS targeting conservatives and conservative groups alone should give great pause to Americans worried about their freedoms.  That the country's national security apparatus - in cahoots with the executive branch - is gathering innocent Americans' private records for scrutiny should chill souls. 

Don't pawn off what President Obama and the NSA are doing as good intentions gone awry.  The abuses of the Patriot Act are the inevitable expansions of government when politicians and bureaucrats are given new "tools" for ostensibly meritorious purposes.  It's almost a law of nature that when governments - federal, state, and local - are granted new powers, they not only employ them but are enterprising in finding ways to broaden their mandates - and that means pushing the envelope, as we've seen with the phone records seizures.  That the Patriot Act permits much covert action domestically can only embolden government.      

Keep in mind that full implementation of ObamaCare is in the offing.  It's a law of nearly unprecedented scope, touching all Americans and gobbling up a sixth of the nation's economy.  It greatly expands the role of the IRS and the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS).  ObamaCare permits the capture and ongoing collection of Americans' health care records - their most intimate details.  And the transfer of tax information to HHS.  That's a lot of power and control to put in the hands of politicians and bureaucrats who have already demonstrated a willingness to violate Americans' privacy rights and liberties. 

Don't get comfortable with the notion that it's just Democrats who are capable of misusing government and trampling rights (though Democrats embrace of big government give them a natural propensity).  One should be leery of the Patriot Act, the IRS, and government-run health care under Republican rule as well.  Big government is an enterprise with its own dynamic; abuses of government might be slowed or even staunched under conservative Republican administration, but not ended - unless big government is ended.  The scope and reach of the federal government is the real problem, as it has been for decades. 

Yes, given the nature of the threat facing the nation - asymmetric warfare by Muslim jihadists and the use of technology to accomplish their fiendish ends - our national, state, and local governments have a fundamental and constitutional duty to protect and defend the citizenry.  But that doesn't grant governments the license to do just about anything in the name of defending the homeland.    

The nation needs a full and open debate about what the threat status is to the homeland now, what the laws and powers are of federal departments and agencies in combating Muslim terrorism, and what policies are absolutely necessary for citizens' protection.  The approach to defending the homeland should be as minimalist as is possible and have ample and vigilant oversight.  Secret courts, issuing secret warrants without counter, should give liberty-loving Americans real concern. 

A national debate should include an acknowledgement that the nation faces not just terrorism, but a jihadist Muslim enemy.  Jettison the political correctness.  As Jed Babbin and others have been arguing long and loud, the nation needs an overarching strategy based on the reality of Muslim jihadism; that means laying out what the end game should be - in other words, what the world should look like once Muslim jihadists are defeated (that's right, defeated).   

One would expect President Obama to call for a debate about privacy versus security and also brand his authorization to seize millions of innocent Americans' phone records as "modest encroachments."  This president is allowed to parse issues in ways other presidents would be flayed for by the mainstream media.  Be that as it may, let the debate begin. 

The Honorable James Sensenbrenner (R-WI) said Friday on Fox News that "Any law can be abused."  He was referring to the Patriot Act.  The congressman was being a tad glib in characterizing the Patriot Act - his creation - as "any law."  It most certainly isn't any law, and its abuse seems inevitable in light of the revelations about indiscriminately sweeping up phone call data from Americans, regardless any suspicion of terrorist intent.

To Sensenbrenner's credit, he's condemned the abuse of the Patriot Act as an "overreach and dragnet."  Yet, in the Fox News interview, the congressman also said that this is what happens when "people think that big government is good."  Sensenbrenner characterized the abuse as "Orwellian." 

But Sensenbrenner's concern about Orwellian big government abusing the Patriot Act begs the question: "What was the congressman thinking when he wrote the law in the first place?" 

The Patriot Act isn't some clean air and water regulation that the EPA is misusing; it's a national security law that permits the federal government - the executive branch, in particular - broader discretion in operating against the nation's enemies (jihadist Muslims, primarily) domestically.

But Sensenbrenner's concern about Orwellian big government abusing the Patriot Act begs the question: "What was the congressman thinking when he wrote the law in the first place?" 

The Patriot Act isn't some clean air and water regulation that the EPA is misusing; it's a national security law that permits the federal government - the executive branch, in particular - broader discretion in operating against the nation's enemies (jihadist Muslims, primarily) domestically.

The federal government wasn't much smaller when the Patriot Act was adopted back in 2001.  The era of big government began in the 1930s.  The federal government has only grown hugely since; it's inexorably become more intrusive and controlling, down to dictating school cafeteria menus.  It was in this context that Representative Sensenbrenner drafted his legislation.      

The latest revelations about the IRS targeting conservatives and conservative groups alone should give great pause to Americans worried about their freedoms.  That the country's national security apparatus - in cahoots with the executive branch - is gathering innocent Americans' private records for scrutiny should chill souls. 

Don't pawn off what President Obama and the NSA are doing as good intentions gone awry.  The abuses of the Patriot Act are the inevitable expansions of government when politicians and bureaucrats are given new "tools" for ostensibly meritorious purposes.  It's almost a law of nature that when governments - federal, state, and local - are granted new powers, they not only employ them but are enterprising in finding ways to broaden their mandates - and that means pushing the envelope, as we've seen with the phone records seizures.  That the Patriot Act permits much covert action domestically can only embolden government.      

Keep in mind that full implementation of ObamaCare is in the offing.  It's a law of nearly unprecedented scope, touching all Americans and gobbling up a sixth of the nation's economy.  It greatly expands the role of the IRS and the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS).  ObamaCare permits the capture and ongoing collection of Americans' health care records - their most intimate details.  And the transfer of tax information to HHS.  That's a lot of power and control to put in the hands of politicians and bureaucrats who have already demonstrated a willingness to violate Americans' privacy rights and liberties. 

Don't get comfortable with the notion that it's just Democrats who are capable of misusing government and trampling rights (though Democrats embrace of big government give them a natural propensity).  One should be leery of the Patriot Act, the IRS, and government-run health care under Republican rule as well.  Big government is an enterprise with its own dynamic; abuses of government might be slowed or even staunched under conservative Republican administration, but not ended - unless big government is ended.  The scope and reach of the federal government is the real problem, as it has been for decades. 

Yes, given the nature of the threat facing the nation - asymmetric warfare by Muslim jihadists and the use of technology to accomplish their fiendish ends - our national, state, and local governments have a fundamental and constitutional duty to protect and defend the citizenry.  But that doesn't grant governments the license to do just about anything in the name of defending the homeland.    

The nation needs a full and open debate about what the threat status is to the homeland now, what the laws and powers are of federal departments and agencies in combating Muslim terrorism, and what policies are absolutely necessary for citizens' protection.  The approach to defending the homeland should be as minimalist as is possible and have ample and vigilant oversight.  Secret courts, issuing secret warrants without counter, should give liberty-loving Americans real concern. 

A national debate should include an acknowledgement that the nation faces not just terrorism, but a jihadist Muslim enemy.  Jettison the political correctness.  As Jed Babbin and others have been arguing long and loud, the nation needs an overarching strategy based on the reality of Muslim jihadism; that means laying out what the end game should be - in other words, what the world should look like once Muslim jihadists are defeated (that's right, defeated).   

One would expect President Obama to call for a debate about privacy versus security and also brand his authorization to seize millions of innocent Americans' phone records as "modest encroachments."  This president is allowed to parse issues in ways other presidents would be flayed for by the mainstream media.  Be that as it may, let the debate begin. 

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