Basically, it's a bill drafted by the head of the Department of Justice, Attorney General John Ashcroft (prior to being named AG, he lost the Missouri governor's election to Mel Carnahan, despite the fact that Mr. Carnahan was dead at the time of the election). He's also the man behind the Secret Court (authorized by the Patriot Act, also called the FISA Court), ignoring habeus corpus, and holding people indefinitely without charges or legal counsel, which characterize our current implementation of the War on Terrorism.
If you're not familiar with the Patriot Act, you might want to read it here or in PDF form here. Basically, it says that in order to fight terrorism and preserve the rights and freedoms of Americans, we need to be able to violate, ignore, and abuse the rights and freedoms of those citizens. In my view, it's McCarthyism with teeth, the worst piece of government tyranny forced onto the American people since the tyrant Lincoln's crimes during the War Between the States.
Anyway, this new bill (not currently published - the link above is an early draft; you can get the PDF version here) expands on the abuses introduced and passed by a weak Congress by:
- Wire-tap any phone whether or not Congress declares a war. Also, expands the time limits set for those, which already supercede anything specified by the Fourth Amendment.
- Allow surveillance, searches, and seizures without court approval - even the Secret Court.
- Expands the powers of the Secret Court to throw people in jail when they decide not to abuse other people's liberies by not complying with Secret Court orders (such as to install wire-taps or surveillance equipment).
- Allows electronic searches without prior presentation of a warrant - they can provide you with one later.
- Allows electronic searches and seizures of "whatever". If you've got a multi-function device, they'll intercept everything that it has, which flies in the face of what a search warrant is supposed to be about (specific places, specific things, specific methods). This also includes stuff that's on the device, whether or not it has anything to do with what they're looking for.
- Expands what "terrorist activity" is when it comes to warrants - not just life-threatening attacks, but also funding terrorist organizations. I wonder if they'll be confiscating my gas card bill and recent 1040 forms? (sorry for the editorializing - I couldn't help myself)
- Give government the same fast access to your credit reports as credit reporting firms have - no more nasty procedures, court subpoenas, or valid warrants. And here's an interesting twist - it would be illegal for a credit reporting agency to reveal that the government has gotten access to your credit report.
- Allows the DOJ rather than a Federal Court to subpoena you for testimony. And you can't tell anyone you've been subpoenaed, except a lawyer (no word on whether the lawyer has to be government certified).
- Keep hidden information that you can now get through the Freedom of Information Act.
- Sets up a DNA database - any DNA from any crime is now part of a federal database, to be used for whatever purposes John Ashcroft thinks.
- Expand the crimes that can carry the death penalty.
- Some really silly items, like revoking tax-exempt status and denying federal benefits to terrorist organizations. Are we to believe that Islamic Jihad is shaking cans outside of department stores to raise money?
- Expanding civil asset forfeiture laws (I hate these laws in general).
- Most disturbing, you can be expatriated if the government says you're a member of a terrorist organization. And since you're no longer a citizen, you're out from under what little protection the Constitution still provides.
This draft and it's analysis is disturbing - I urge you to read the original Patriot Act, then read the draft of the Domestic Security Enhancement Act, and make up your own mind. Then go to the ACLU's Action Alert site and send a free fax to your Congressmen, and tell them to stop this. Now.