Let’s take stand against Patriot Act | TheUnion.com

Let’s take stand against Patriot Act

The Bill of Rights is in imminent danger from the vast extension of executive power given to the government by the USA Patriot Act and from the proposed provisions of the so-called Patriot II. Every American should be concerned.

Nevada County and the individual city councils should join the 325 communities (at last count) and four states across the nation that have asserted the right of citizens through local resolutions to protect their liberties and to affirm that their freedoms are embodied and guaranteed in the Bill of Rights. (Please check the Bill of Rights Defense Committee at “www.bordc.org” for the latest numbers and news.)

It is very much a local issue. Conservatives, liberals, and Libertarians (and those who refuse to be classified) are coming together in common cause, knowing or relearning that our rights reside in us, not in the government. Over 51 million citizens of the United States now live in communities that have passed resolutions to protect and affirm their civil liberties. (Among the larger cities: New York, Chicago, Dallas, and Los Angeles. Sacramento passed a resolution, as have hundreds of smaller communities.)

I hope our county supervisors and city council members will not look upon this issue as another partisan battle but will see it as a positive opportunity to represent local residents in protecting their liberties as Nevada County and United States citizens (and, consequently, joining millions across the nation).

It is impossible in a short essay to address each of the sections of the over 340 page Patriot Act (and the proposed Patriot II) that undermine the Constitution. The first, fourth, fifth and sixth amendments are in danger. The Fourth Amendment (the right of the people to be secure in their persons, houses, papers, and effects) has been virtually nullified by the Patriot Act.

Officials of the Justice Department are trying to sell the Patriot Act. Unfortunately, they are not being honest. Whatever you hear or read, please keep in mind that:

1. The Patriot Act can be used against American citizens. It specifically amends FISA (Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act) to include “United States persons.”

2. The government can now obtain your records without probable cause. The standards used for intrusive searches are so low that the government can obtain records without any reason to believe the person is a criminal or terrorist. It is only necessary that the records (library, bank, medical, etc.) are “sought for” in an ongoing investigation. There is no need to present evidence to a judge. The judge must issue the warrants and has no discretion in doing so.

3. Much of the Patriot Act can be applied to anyone, not just to suspected terrorists.

4. The definition of “terrorist” has been broadened and may be applied to many domestic activities not at all related to terrorism, including dissent in many forms. In addition, there are troubling provisions about secret “searches and seizures” where due process is discarded and about allowing lengthy detentions while being held incommunicado.

The proposed Patriot II? Courts are prohibited from ruling contrary to the surveillance powers of Patriot I and those requested in Patriot II. Extradition of persons can occur for “probable cause” when there has not even been a criminal act. Extradition can occur for “political offenses.” (Such extradition “not subject to judicial review.”) The government can expatriate U.S. citizens who, “by inference of their conduct,” the government believes have in fact renounced their citizenship.

These are very dangerous ideas giving far too much power to the discretion of the government. The bare existence of such power is irreconcilable with the spirit and constitutional life of our nation and will certainly be used for political and social purposes, whatever party is in office. (Have we forgotten what concerned our nation’s founders above all?) We can’t allow the fact of 9/11 or the fact that terrorists exist to destroy our Constitution and the checks on government coercion built into it. Are our liberties really so weak and provisional?

I hope citizens of Nevada County will look into the specifics of these acts and not settle for a vague assurance of their benignity. If we lose our liberties, we won’t lose them in the abstract but specifically. According to the Declaration of Independence, our rights are inalienable. I think that means inalienable.

Locally, the non-partisan Coalition of Concerned Patriots (272-0963) – a successor to the Nevada County Bill of Rights Defense Committee – is coordinating an effort to bring resolutions before our governing boards. Citizen support is appreciated.


John McDonald is a citizen and resident of Nevada County.

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