On May 6, 2004, American born attorney Brandon Mayfield was arrested and held, without being charged, for two weeks, as a suspect in the Madrid terrorist bombings, based on a faulty fingerprint match and evidence concocted by the FBI. The FBI broke into his house, without a warrant, and searched it several times, as well as using national security letters to wiretap his phones, and bug the house. Mayfield sued the government for damages and declaratory relief and in the lower court, District Court Judge Aiken threw out two sections of the Patriot Act that modified the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act in Mayfield v. United States, 504 F. Supp. 1023. Unfortunately, Judge Aiken’s decision was rendered moot on appeal when the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeal decided that Mayfield could not pursue his declaratory relief claim after he had settled with the government for a reported $2 million settlement and letter of apology. Se e Mayfield v. United States, 599 F. 3d 964.
Less than one month after the horrendous terrorist attacks on the United States on September 11, 2001, the United States Congress rushed through both houses and President George W. Bush signed into law, the “Uniting and Strengthening America by Providing Tools Required to Intercept and Obstruct Terrorism Act of 2001, better known by its acronym, The USA PATRIOT ACT. Originally designed to be a temporary measure, this Act was reauthorized by Congress in July 2005. Some of the most controversial measures of the Act that were to expire in 2009 were temporarily extended when President Barack Obama signed extension legislation on February 27, 2010, and on March 26, 2011, Obama signed a four year extension of three key provisions of the Act that have been criticized as unconstitutional. These relate to roving wiretaps, searches of business and library records, and “lone wolf” surveillance, authorizing surveillance of individuals suspected of terrorist activities who do not belong to any recognized terrorist group.
What’s wrong with the Patriot Act? Plenty-it is the most pervasive joint attack by the Executive and Legislative branches of our government on the United States Constitution in history. The Patriot Act expanded the executive’s power to practical omnipotence, allowing the FBI and other government enforcement agencies to use “enhanced surveillance procedures,” which included roving wiretaps, which follow the suspect and encompass any communication technology used at any time, “sneak and peek” searches, for which the search can be conducted before the suspect is informed of the search warrant, and the production of books, records papers, documents and other items to be ordered not by a court of law, but by the FBI, the CIA or the Department of Defense in a “national security letter.” The Act also authorizes the forfeiture of assets of those suspected of money laundering, detention of up to two weeks of suspected terrorists who are United States citizens, and indefinite renewable detention of aliens from 90 days to six months.
The “War on Terror” is still on, and is still being used as an excuse to broaden or extend the broad brush of governmental power. Such power is being used to violate the Fourth Amendment Constitutional guarantee against unreasonable searches and seizures and is unacceptable. James Madison said, “The means of defense against foreign danger have been always the instruments of tyranny at home. Among the Romans it was a standing maxim to excite a war, whenever a revolt was apprehended. Throughout all Europe, the armies kept up under the pretext of defending, have enslaved the people.” Madison, also known as the “father of the Constitution,” along with other notable statesmen such as Thomas Jefferson, the draftsman of the Declaration of Independence, Benjamin Franklin, intended that the government to answer to the people, not the other way around. When they set up three branches of government with checks and balances, they did this so that no one branch would get any more powerful than the other. The first ten amendments to the Constitution were designed to guarantee that the government not be able to take away the personal freedoms that all people have.
The people of this country need to stand up for and defend the inalienable rights that we all have and send a clear message to their Congressman and Senators that if he or she does not vote to repeal the Patriot Act, or votes in favor of any further extension, they will not be getting your vote at the next election. We should not forget who said, “Voice or no voice, the people can always be brought to the bidding of the leaders. That is easy. All you have to do is tell them they are being attacked, and denounce the peace makers for lack of patriotism and exposing the country to danger. It works the same in any country.” It was Hermann Goering.