Toward a Progressive-Libertarian Coalition Against the National Security Police State and the Pan-Optic Surveillance Society

Though it remains fashionable to denounce Democratic-Republican partisanship in Washington D.C., Democratic-Republican bipartisanship represents the greater threat to rights, liberties and the rule of law. Advocates of the national security police state and the pan-optic surveillance society achieved yet another political victory with the renewal of the Patriot Act last week, which easily passed the House and Senate with bi-partisan support and which the president signed into law without fanfare. Those who are unwilling to sacrifice liberty in the name of security theater might find common cause in their opposition to the Democratic-Republican elite consensus on this issue. At the progressive Alternet, Doug Robertson highlighted the Obama administration's hypocrisy:

Back in 2005, then-Senator Barack Obama had this to say opposing The Patriot Act when it came up then for reauthorization: “We do not have to settle for a Patriot Act that sacrifices our liberties or our safety. We can have one that secures both.” Throughout his entire presidential campaign, Obama often railed against the Act, criticizing it giving authorization for the Bush administration to secretly spy on U.S. citizens, illegally and unconstitutionally and with little or no judicial or congressional oversight. He pledged that he would institute “robust” checks and balances if he got elected, explicitly promising to overturn its unconstitutional sneak-and-peek provisions toward citizens not even suspected of a crime. “Warrantless surveillance of American citizens, in defiance of FISA, is unlawful and unconstitutional,” he said.

Libertarians at the Cato Institute were equally disappointed. Julian Sanchez writes:
It looks as though we’ll be getting a straight one-year reauthorization of the expiring provisions of the Patriot Act, without even the minimal added safeguards for privacy and civil liberties that had been proposed in the Senate’s watered down bill. This is disappointing, but was also eminently predictable: Between health care and the economy, it was clear Congress wasn’t going to make time for any real debate on substantive reform of surveillance law. Still, the fact that the reauthorization is only for one year suggests that the reformers plan to give it another go—though, in all probability, we won’t see any action on this until after the midterm elections.
Sanchez further provides a helpful link reminding us of the kinds of abuses that quickly became a matter of course under the Patriot Act surveillance regime. From Wired, last month:
An internal audit found the FBI broke the law thousands of times when requesting Americans’ phone records using fake emergency letters that were never followed up on with true subpoenas — even though top officials knew the practice was illegal . . . A proper NSL authorized under the Patriot Act allows agents to secretly get an individuals’ phone and financial records with a self-issued subpoena so long as they are “relevant” to an official, ongoing investigation.

That was supposed to prevent FBI agents from getting someone’s phone number just for exercising their First Amendment rights. But the standard was low enough that agents began issuing tens of thousands of NSLs a year, with not one being checked by a judge. But even those rules were too stringent, and the New York-style “exigent letter” — an understandable shortcut after the 9/11 attacks — graduated from being temporary and was adopted by employees in Washington, D.C.

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