Patriot Act developments

Proposed amendments to the Patriot Act as it comes up for reconsideration are a matter, literally, of life and death.

[W]ith some of the act’s most sweeping powers set to expire at the end of the year, the two houses of Congress face crucial negotiations, which will also take place out of public view, on their differences over how to extend and amend the law. That’s controversy enough. But the increasingly out-of-control House of Representatives has made the threat to our system of justice even greater by inserting a raft of provisions to enlarge the scope of the federal death penalty.

In a breathtaking afterthought at the close of debate, the House voted to triple the number of terrorism-related crimes carrying the death penalty. The House also voted to allow judges to reduce the size of juries that decide on executions, and even to permit prosecutors to try repeatedly for a death sentence when a hung jury fails to vote for death….

There are now 20 terrorism-related crimes eligible for capital punishment, and the House measure would add 41 more. These would make it easier for prosecutors to win a death sentence in cases where a defendant had no intent to kill — for example, if a defendant gave financial support to an umbrella organization without realizing that some of its adherents might eventually commit violence.

(Emphasis added; via Subintsoc.)

On the library front, earlier this month the Campaign for Reader Privacy urged its supporters to call and write their federal representatives in support of a Senate Patriot Act renewal bill that’s more protective of reader privacy than its House counterpart. (For background on Section 215 of the Patriot Act, go here and here.)

An unnamed Connecticut university library has lost, at least until a ruling is issued by the Second Circuit, its Supreme Court appeal of the act’s gag order provisions. The library is therefore unable to participate in the ongoing debates over the proposed renewal. According to CNN:

Much of the Supreme Court appeal, filed earlier this week, was classified and blacked out…. A filing by the American Library Association and other groups included some details, as did Ginsburg’s seven-page opinion. She said that the library association member received an FBI demand for records but was told that it would be illegal to tell anyone about it.

Finally, classified documents made public last week reveal that the FBI “has conducted clandestine surveillance on some US residents for as long as 18 months at a time without proper paperwork or oversight.”


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