Tuesday, May 16, 2006

The Patriot Act Is Being Used Against Journalists

The FBI confirmed today that it is relying more and more on reporters' phone records to find government officials who leak classified information to the press.

Brian Ross and Richard Esposito -- the ABC journalists who were told, face to face, by a high-level source in the Bush administration that the government knew who they were calling -- reported today that the FBI is relying on a new provision in the Patriot Act to get the phone records without going to a judge.

Officials say the FBI makes extensive use of a new provision of the Patriot Act which allows agents to seek information with what are called National Security Letters (NSL).

The NSLs are a version of an administrative subpoena and are not signed by a judge. Under the law, a phone company receiving a NSL for phone records must provide them and may not divulge to the customer that the records have been given to the government.

This is, to me, one of the most chilling comments I have ever read:

"It used to be very hard and complicated to do this, but it no longer is in the Bush administration," said a senior federal official.

That's what happens when you have an executive branch that does not recognize any legal restrictions on its actions:

The FBI is now harrassing reporters in a way that previously required the consent of a judge -- which usually wasn't given except as a "last resort." NSLs, by contrast, are issued by the FBI itself. There. Is. No. Oversight. At. All.

Remember back in December when the White House was fighting tooth and nail to get the Patriot Act renewed with updated provisions it insisted were "essential tools" in the war against terrorism? Well, it seems that those provisions also make excellent tools for an administration to intimidate journalists and government whistleblowers, and discourage the press from publishing anything that makes Bush look bad, or that interferes with his administration's paranoid mania for secrecy and surveillance.

In plain English: The Bush administration is using the laws it demanded from Congress to fight terror to turn America into a police state:

In rule of law terms, I guess there's some extremely mild solace to be taken in the fact that the administration has apparently deigned to follow the law in this case. But a police state law still gets you a police state.

This is what the Patriot Act is being used for. In a free society, law enforcement goes before independent magistrates. Apparently we're now beyond that.

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