Sunday, May 22, 2011

The Patriot Act May Rise Again...

The Patriot Act, though its renewal was temporarily blocked, looks like it might be in place for another four years.

Congress to Vote on Extending Patriot Act

Not all of the Patriot Act is bad--I don't see any problem allowing the FBI access to CIA data in tracking terrorism suspects.

However, the parts that are bad are very bad.  The federal government being able to subpoena your library records and then gag the librarian to keep them from revealing this, for example.  And here's something else...

White House proposal would ease FBI access to records of Internet activity

I found the above link on my alternate-history forum.  It's dated to July, but it's relevant to this situation, since it involves the Patriot Act's "National Security Letters."

Imagine the blackmail potential being able to get into everyone's search history represents.  You could control people by threatening to reveal illegal music downloading, perusing pornographic Web sites, searches for already-written term papers, viewing Internet personal ads, wasting time when one should be working, etc.  You could say that those who avoid doing these dubious and/or immoral things would have nothing to fear, but even one slip-up could get an otherwise-virtuous person into trouble.  Say you download one song illegally and someone with access to your search history threatens to get the RIAA to sue you for a million dollars or something like that.  Even if laws and/or moral precepts have been broken, those who have done so do not necessarily deserveto be victims of a crime and that's what blackmail is.

Those blackmailed can be then used for nefarious purposes.  Here's an article science-fiction author David Brin wrote about just how dangerous blackmail can be:

The Hidden Danger to Public Servants

Blackmail can build upon blackmail--look at Brin's example of U.S. Marines blackmailed by the threat of revealing lewd photos of them with Russian girls into stealing information from the U.S. Embassy and then threatened with the revelation of their espionage to keep on doing it.

Imagine an opponent of the president or a powerful Congressman having a family member or friend blackmailed into spying on them.  Or even killing them--anyone remember the film Dial M for Murder in which a man blackmails another man into trying to kill his wife?

There's also the Fourth Amendment issues involved.  I'm pretty sure the principles still apply even though one's Internet history is not the same as one's file cabinet.  Given how the text of the amendment describes the right to be secure in one's "papers," I think you can apply that to one's personal information.

The vote won't take place until next week and many from the Tea Party movement have stuck to their small-government principles and opposed renewing the Patriot Act, at least without reforms. 

Anyone who wants to keep their privacy rights--and potentially much more--protected from government interference should write Congress via to let their representatives know that they don't want to be spied on.

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