Congress has until year’s end to decide whether to reauthorize sixteen “sunsetted” provisions of the USA Patriot Act. Many of the worst provisions of the act are not up for discussion, critic David Cole of Georgetown University law school writes in The Nation. He calls the debate “largely a diversion, because the worst civil liberties abuses since 9/11 have been achieved without reliance on the Patriot Act, as they are based on executive initiatives that Congress has no will to challenge.”
The battles are likely to focus on just two sections. One, the “libraries provision,” allows the government secretly to obtain records of any person from any business, regardless of wrongdoing; and the other authorizes secret “sneak and peek” searches of homes without promptly informing the homeowner. Not up for reconsideration is a Patriot Act section that authorizes the Treasury Secretary to freeze the assets of any entity in the U.S. without evidence of wrongdoing, simply by claiming that it is “under investigation” for potential violations of a law barring material support to groups or individuals designated as “terrorist,” a term not defined in the law, meaning it is whatever the Treasury Department says it is.