In February, the Center for Public Integrity uncovered a confidential Justice Department draft of the Domestic Security Enhancement Act of 2003. The legislation picks up where the PATRIOT Act left off -- more wiretaps and secret searches, government access to credit reports and other personal records, a database of DNA samples, and provisions allowing the attorney general to revoke the U.S. citizenship of anyone who provides assistance to a group the government considers a "terrorist" organization.
It is a target-rich environment for Ashcroft now, and civil libertarians fear that he may be ready to fire soon. Last week, a remarkable alliance of more than 65 advocacy groups -- ranging from the American Civil Liberties Union and the NAACP to the American Conservative Union and the Gun Owners of America -- took the unusual step of writing to Congress to oppose legislation that has not yet been introduced. The theory: If they wait until the moment of crisis when Ashcroft unveils what they're calling PATRIOT Act II, it will already be too late.
"Last time around, the attorney general announced that he was sending up a bill and that he expected Congress to enact it within three days," the ACLU's Timothy Edgar said of Ashcroft's post-9/11 push for the first PATRIOT Act in an interview with Salon. "They ended up taking six weeks, but they still didn't have a single hearing, and members were unable to obtain a complete text of the legislation even after they voted on it."
To hear that the gun lobbyists and the ACLU both agree on something should strike a chord with everyone. If the reports are true about what Ashcroft wants to push through with Patriot Act II, it's no wonder that everyone can see the problems with this. Write to your representatives in Congress and let them know that you want to keep your rights.
The drumbeat began just days after Sept. 11, when George W. Bush told the nations of the world: "Either you are with us, or you are with the terrorists." It grew louder -- and closer to home -- when Ari Fleischer warned that "all Americans" should "watch what they say," and then again when Attorney General Ashcroft said that those who complained of lost liberties during the war on terror "aid terrorists" by giving "ammunition to America's enemies and pause to America's friends."
Not only are we losing our civil liberties in a legal sense, we are being intimidated for voicing our opinions.
"I'm a little too young to remember McCarthyism, but I've got the feeling that it might be happening again," Saviano told Salon. "I wonder where it came from, this idea that anybody who wants to question this administration or debate things publicly is labeled unpatriotic?"
What are the big bad problems looming in Patriot Act II?
Cancel judicial consent decrees that prevent local police departments from spying on civil rights groups and other organizations that might once have been deemed subversive.
Would that include hacker conventions?
Allow the attorney general to revoke the U.S. citizenship of anyone who provides assistance to any group the government considers to be a "terrorist" organization. Once the individual's citizenship is revoked, the attorney general would then be free to deport him -- or to hold him indefinitely in government custody.
I was born in America. Where would I be deported to if the Attorney General decided that I was supporting terrorism by calling him a big doody head?
"The real danger to our liberty comes from politicians wanting to look like they are doing something in a time of crisis," said the ACLU's Edgar. "Unfortunately, it's inevitable that there will be politicians, including politicians in the Justice Department, who aren't really looking to make us safer but to take advantage of the situation."
'Shut Your Mouth'