Bush sets sights on our freedoms

In a speech yesterday (reported by the Washington Post), President Bush asked the public to "untie the hands of our law enforcement officials."

In his speech, Bush has called for extensions to the USA Patriot Act to give the government additional powers which he claims would bring anti- terrorism enforcement in line with enforcement of other crimes.

I find this last contention to be interesting, as the USA Patriot Act contains provisions for law enforcement that aren't available for use against any other form of criminal activity, including drug trafficking and racketeering.

In particular, the Act expands the use of the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act of 1978 to grant additional immunity to law enforcement and those who help with the wiretaps as well as extending the amount of time that wiretaps may be in operation without appropriate authorization. Mr. Bush may just be misinformed, but this provision isn't available even under the RICO statutes.

Further, the provisions requiring that librarians and booksellers provide information about your reading and book-buying habits when requested by law enforcement certainly wasn't available under any previous provisions.

So, what is President Bush talking about? I'm not sure, and his speech didn't elaborate except to say that Congress should "change the law and give law enforcement officials the same tools they have to fight terror that they have to fight other crime."

On the surface, this doesn't sound like a bad idea, as long as they also remove the other provisions. Allow them to seize property of suspected terrorists, but give us back the right to read whatever we want in private.

The Post article does further mention that support is not there right now in the congress for extensions to the USA Patriot Act, and that some of the provisions have already been rolled back through funding mechanisms. The New York Times follows suit in reporting that the new provisions may be a "hard sell" for the President.

It's nice to see that checks and balances are still working even when both the legislative and executive branches are run by the same party.