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The real cost of the USA PATRIOT Act

Last Friday Colin Powell admitted that the administration did not have any concrete evidence of a link between Saddam Hussein and Al Quaeda before the war.

Remember the Sunday when Saddam was captured? You probably didn't know (I sure didn't until yesterday) that your freedoms were being signed away during the media Saddam-athon.

Here's the story: Back before the War in Iraq started, the Bush administration began drafting the sequel to the USA PATRIOT Act, dubbed, uncreatively, the PATRIOT Act II. The plan was to wait until the first couple days of the war to pass the act through congress. The House and Senate would be weak and pass anything through in a time of war, and the unsuspecting US citizens wouldn't even have a clue because the media circus would be covering the war around the clock.

Why the secrecy? The PATRIOT Act II (which I will call the "Big Brother Act", or "BBB") scares the hell out of people. Among other things, it instructs the government to build a database of citizen DNA information that can be collected without a court order on anyone suspected of wrongdoing, allows the government to wiretap anyone's phone and spy on anyone's internet usage (including chat and e-mail) without a warrant, allows the government to strip Americans of their citizenship if they have been found to provide support to organizations deemed by the government, even retroactively, to be 'terrorist,' and it allows legal permanent residents to be deported, without a criminal charge being filed or evidence presented, if the attorney general considers them a threat to national security.

Whoa.

If you're wondering why you haven't heard much of this until now, it's because the details of the bill were leaked before it could be stealthily enacted. Those who found out about the bill raised hell over the obvious violations of privacy and the unheard of penalties for enemies of the attorney general (Even the Romans didn't strip civilians of their citizenship or deport them from Rome. The worst they did was to send enemies of the government to the far reaches of the empire.).

Anyway, the bill was dismantled. They had been found out - caught in the act. Game over.

No, not really.

The new strategy to attack your rights is to take small pieces of the old bill and attach them to other bills that won't raise to many eyebrows. This makes the pieces harder to fight.

It has already happened.

On Sunday, December 13, Saddam Hussein was captured and the media put up video of the "Evil Dictator" having his mouth and hair searched for weapons of mass destruction. Meanwhile, according to an article by David Martin of the San Antonio Current, "The Bush Administration and its Congressional allies tucked away these new executive powers in the Intelligence Authorization Act for Fiscal Year 2004, a legislative behemoth that funds all the intelligence activities of the federal government."

A 'slight of legislative hand' within the Act allows the FBI to probe Americans' financial records, even if they are not suspected of being involved in a crime or terrorism. The FBI does not need to appear before a judge, nor demonstrate "probable cause" when before acquiring the records, and a gag order prohibits the financial institutions from informing its clients that their records have been examined by the government.

Even supporters of expansion of the PATRIOT Act are concerned about the tactics being used to implement the pieces of the BBB with little or no public debate, or even disclosure.

We may soon reach the day when we can say "I could be a lot more free in Canada."

Read other articles by Scott on politics