In this week’s focus on the “Stop Online Piracy Act” (SOPA) and its opponent’s claims that it’s a slippery slope in the infringement of civil liberties, only passing references were made to the Patriot Act, which observed its 10-year anniversary last October. It was signed while a large pile of debris in New York was still smoking.
There have been many claims about the effects of the Patriot Act, intended to help monitor and catch terrorists, but one fact has not gotten much attention: What you think the Patriot Act is, isn’t what the Patriot Act is.
Writing in her On Liberty column in the Boston Globe, Carol Rose notes that two senators who have seen the executive branch’s secret interpretation of the Patriot Act, found that the branch has been lying to the American people about how it’s used:
Senators Wyden and Udall then proposed an amendment to require the government to tell the truth to the American people about the Patriot Act: “United States Government officials should not secretly reinterpret public laws and statutes in a manner that is inconsistent with the public’s understanding of these laws and should not describe the execution of these laws in ways that misinforms or misleads the public.”
How did Congress respond? It reauthorized the Patriot Act without public debate – again.
So remember: whatever government officials say in public about the Patriot Act may be untrue.
It is difficult to have an informed public debate on civil liberties in the age of the Patriot Act, if people aren’t allowed to know what the Patriot Act is.