I continue to observe President Barak Obama's pattern of saying the wrong thing, both as a candidate and as president, but generally doing the right thing in the War on Terrorism, with some notable exceptions. Despite Obama's statements about the need to review certain provisions of the controversial Patriot Act because of privacy concerns, the Obama Administration has announced that it will extend three of the provisions of the Patriot Act that were due to expire soon.
The Patriot Act, which was signed into law by President George W. Bush a few months after the September 11, 2001 Attacks, after being passed by Congress with overwhelming bipartisan support, has been opposed by many liberals and libertarians because of concerns about privacy. However, many of its specific provisions are not controversial; their constitutionality is unquestionable because they merely are applications of law enforcement tools to terrorism cases that have long applied to other types of cases.
One provision allows roving wiretaps of suspects, instead of requiring a warrant for each new telephone (e.g. cell phones or other communication devices) used by the suspect, which was necessitated by advances in technology. Another provision allows surveillance of suspects not connected with foreign states or terrorist organizations, but who operate independently.
The third provision allows the federal government access to business records. Liberals and libertarians complained about this provision especially because it allows the government to have access to library records. They considered government access to library records -- even public library records -- to be an invasion of privacy. These critics implied that this provision would be used to spy on political opponents' reading habits.
They are wrong. Although there is no right to privacy in the Constitution (and no requirement for a warrant in order to conduct a search), there is a protection under the Fourth Amendment against “unreasonable searches and seizures.” A search must be “reasonable,” which means based upon “probable cause” that the suspect has committed a crime.
Indeed, library records can reasonably be searched in other types of cases. For example, a woman was convicted in one of the States of the Union for murdering her husband, in part because of the evidence revealed from a search of her library records, to wit: her fingerprints on the page in the book for the recipe for the poison that was found to have killed her husband. It is reasonable that such evidence also be available for law enforcement in terrorism cases, such as searching library records of suspected terrorists to see if they read books on how to make bombs or for recipes for chemical weapons, etc.
The Obama Administration will review these provisions and make recommendations for greater protections for privacy, which is not unreasonable, but the main news is that Obama once again is vindicating Bush. More importantly, Obama is doing the right thing in matters of security by extending these provisions of the Patriot Act.
Let us encourage Obama to renew the other provisions of the Patriot Act, some of which are also controversial, when they also come due to expire later, as this legislation has been one of the most important tools in the War on Terrorism that has prevented another attack like September 11.