Patriot Act II, A New Chapter of Ashcroftian Madness

Revolutionary Worker #1188, February 23, 2003, posted at

Speaking on February 14 at FBI headquarters, George W. Bush painted a sinister picture of the rapidly expanding police powers of the state.

Bush praised the growing links and information sharing between the FBI, CIA, and local police. And he gave this example: "The FBI is expanding the terrorist identification system so that 18,000 state and local law enforcement agencies will be better able to identify known or suspected terrorists in near real- time. Local police officers will be able to access federal terrorism information from their squad cars. In other words, a [police officer] in Crawford pulls somebody over, he's able to call up whether or not the person is on a terrorist list, whether or not the person is a suspect."

Think about this. A squad car pulls a driver over for a minor traffic stop. The cops check the driver's name on the federal "suspect" list. Maybe the person has attended a meeting or gone to a protest organized by a political group that the government has labeled "terrorist." Or maybe the person just has a name that is similar to someone else on the list. In any case, the driver's name shows up on the list--and the person is immediately put under arrest.

And under a new law now reportedly being prepared by John Ashcroft's Department of Justice, the government could keep the arrest and detention entirely secret --the "suspect's" family, friends, and lawyers would have no way of finding out the person's whereabouts or condition--or even whether he or she is in the government's clutches at all. The government could even strip the person of her or his U.S. citizenship.

A few weeks after September 11, 2001, Ashcroft and the Bush government rammed through a new law called the USA Patriot Act. In the name of "fighting terrorism," the law gave sweeping new powers to the government to carry out searches and spying on individuals and organizations, set up phone wiretaps, use electronic and computer eavesdropping, and conduct many other assaults on people's rights.

Now comes the Patriot Act II--officially known as the Domestic Security Enforcement Act of 2003-- a new and even more chilling chapter in Ashcroftian madness.

The news about Patriot Act II was broken by the Center for Public Integrity (CPI), which obtained and published a draft copy of the law on February 7. (The full draft is available at the CPI website: The draft, dated January 9, was prepared by John Ashcroft's staff. It has not been officially released by the Department of Justice--although the Republican Speaker of the House, Dennis Hastert, and Vice-President Dick Cheney received copies.

What's in the Draft of the Law

The following are some of the key provisions in the draft of Patriot Act II. As the group Fairness and Accuracy in Reporting (FAIR) points out, "In examining the measures that Patriot Act II would authorize against `suspected terrorists,' it's important to recall that the legal definition of domestic terrorism is now so broad that it could encompass traditional forms of political protest, such as non-violent civil disobedience."

Secret Arrests and Detentions: The Patriot Act II authorizes the detention of people accused of "terrorism"--before their trial and without bail. Another provision enables the government to keep such arrests and detentions secret.

After 9/11, the government arrested more than 1,200 people--mostly Arab, Muslim, and South Asian immigrant men. None were charged with any "terrorist" crimes, but many were held as "material witnesses" or deported for minor immigration violations. Ashcroft refused to release the names of the detainees. Last year, a federal judge ruled that the government must release the names of the detainees under the Freedom of Information Act (FOIA). Patriot Act II would block FOIA requests and prohibit the "disclosure of terrorism investigation detainee information."

Stripping Citizenship: Provisions in Ashcroft's new bill would empower the government to strip citizenship from anyone accused of belonging to or supporting a group designated by the government as a "terrorist organization." Under current laws, a person must formally state his or her intent to give up U.S. citizenship in order to lose it (or take action such as serving in a military of a country that is at war with the U.S.) Patriot Act II would allow the government to claim that a person's political actions or associations show such an intent--and use that claim to strip a person of citizenship and to "expatriate" him or her--that is, deport the person out of the U.S.

DNA Database: Patriot Act II authorizes the creation of a federal database of DNA information--including DNA data on people who have committed no crimes but are simply "suspects." Government agents will be given the authority to collect DNA samples from detainees by "such means as are reasonably necessary"--and refusal to cooperate would in itself be a crime.

Eliminate Consent Decrees: The bill would strike down all consent decrees set up before 9/11 not related to civil rights violations. Consent decrees are legal agreements that limit the ability of police departments and other law enforcement agencies to spy on and gather information about groups and individuals. Many such decrees were issued as a result of protests and struggles over the trampling on people's rights by police "red squads" and other units. Patriot Act II would also put major restrictions on future consent decrees.

The director of the American Civil Liberty Union's Washington office said, "When you repeal guidelines that govern police spying, it affects everyone, especially those who disagree with the government. At a time like this, we need to protect the right to dissent."

Wiretapping and Electronic Surveillance: Patriot Act II allows wiretapping of any suspect for 15 days, without authorization from a judge and at the sole discretion of the U.S. Attorney General. The Justice Department would have to check with a judge after 15 days--but the information gathered during that period could still be used by law enforcement agencies.

The FBI and police would be able to eavesdrop on the Internet activities of people suspected of "activities threatening the national security interest" for 48 hours without a court order. They could track websites visited, items searched through search engines, messages sent through e-mail, etc.

Restricting Information on Chemical Companies that Pose Health Risks: Under current laws, chemical companies that handle hazardous or toxic material are required to file public "worst case scenario" reports that detail the potential effects of spills and other environmental disasters. Patriot Act II greatly restricts public access to such information. Chuck Lewis of CPI told Bill Moyers on his PBS-TV show, "We're rolling back health and safety and environmental and other considerations and sensitivities that have been in our culture now for decades...all in the name of `fighting terrorism.' "

The Patriot Act II is now in draft form, so the specific details of the law may change by the time it is officially unveiled. But the draft makes clear the potentially far-reaching implications for the growing power of the government over the people. It is revealing that such a major new law has been developed in secrecy within Ashcroft's department and among a small circle in the power structure.

David Cole, Georgetown University law professor, suggested that these secret moves around Patriot Act II may be linked to the Bush administration's plans for war with Iraq: "What that suggests is that they're waiting for a propitious time to introduce it, which might well be when a war is begun. At that time there would be less opportunity for discussion, and they'll have a much stronger hand in saying that they need these right away."

The government is rapidly increasing the powers that their army of agents have over the people and making sweeping decisions about what activities, associations, and political life are now outlawed. The speed and secrecy with which all this is being carried out make it hard for many people to grasp the huge and historic changes that are going on. In the name of "war on terrorism," the cornerstones of a police state are being laid down.

This article is posted in English and Spanish on Revolutionary Worker Online
Write: Box 3486, Merchandise Mart, Chicago, IL 60654
Phone: 773-227-4066 Fax: 773-227-4497