Friday, December 10, 2004

Fourth Amendment Further Eroded

The new intelligence legislation that Congress approved this week has several under-publicized provisions that further stretch the definition of "unreasonable search and seizure." The legislation, which Pres. Bush is expected to sign, would

  • make it easier for the FBI to obtain secret surveillance and search warrants; and allow the government to do this without establishing a connection between the target of the surveillance and a foreign government or terrorist organization.
  • give the Justice Department greater latitude to hold terrorism suspects without bail.
  • expand the federal government's ability to share grand jury information with foreign governments in "urgent" terrorism cases.
  • loosen the legal definition of "material support" to terrorist organizations.

All of these provisions would further erode civil liberties provisions in the U.S. Constitution; but the one that concerns me most is the last one. Alarm sirens go off in my head when I imagine the scenarios the FBI could define as giving "material support" to terrorist organizations. Government attorneys have already agreed that a "little old lady in Switzerland" could be arrested for supporting terrorism if she gave money to a charity designed to help orphans in Afghanistan and, unbeknownst to her, the money was siphoned off to Al Qaeda or another terrorist organization. So now if I send money for medical and other humanitarian aid to a group of Iraqis trying to help victims of the war there, will I be arrested for providing "material support to terrorist organizations"? What if I renew my membership to a national grassroots peace organization that opposes war? Does opposition to Bush's invasion of Iraq constitute giving "material support" to terrorists?

It's very scary stuff -- just as scary, to me, as terrorism itself.

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