Sunday, February 13, 2011

PATRIOT Act Renewal Raises Fourth Amendment Issues

The renewal of the PATRIOT Act has brought some Fourth Amendment issues front and center. 
Last week the House failed in a vote to renew the PATRIOT Act.  This is the Act, passed in response to 9-11-2001 that provides the authority for court-approved roving wiretaps on multiple phones, the seizure of certain business records, and other and electronic monitoring.
The Fourth Amendment issues raised by the Bill are fairly complicated.  But what is notable is that – perhaps unlike previously – the search and seizure issues are getting some attention.  Some liberals in Congress who initially support the Act now are concerned about the Fourth Amendment implications.  A Washington Times article describes the situation:
Reps. Charles B. Rangel of New York, Debbie Wasserman Schultz of Florida, and James E. Clyburn, the assistant minority leader from South Carolina, were among those to change their stance. All of them say they want a full review of the law, before it is renewed.
Rep. Sheila Jackson Lee, Texas Democrat, who also switched positions, aired a similar argument on the House floor Thursday, saying the “voice of the people should assure that the Fourth Amendment protections against unreasonable search and seizure has not been violated.”
But what is more interesting is that conservatives have also raised privacy concerns.  For example, Senator Rand Paul (someone I probably rarely agree with) said, “These provisions up for renewal empower the federal government to violate the Fourth Amendment rights of our citizens.”  A Boston Globe article describes the views of a new Republican Congressman:
Justin Amash of Michigan objected to renewing the provisions on grounds that they may conflict with the Fourth Amendment prohibition on unreasonable searches. “I cannot support them as currently written,’’ Amash said in a statement.
I will be watching to see if any real discussion of these issues emerges, or if the whole bill is renewed with little debate.  I think the former will benefit the country.

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