In my U.S. Foreign Policy class, I am writing a paper on whether certain controversial parts of the Patriot Act such as -- roving wiretaps, delayed notification searches and new authorities to obtain the library, credit card and health records of individuals who are not the subject of a criminal investigation but who might be of intelligence value in terrorism probes -- are in fact constitutional or not. So, I thought that this would be an interesting blog debate.
Here is a Q & A session that from The Washington Post in 2005 that took place regarding Americans' concerns about violation of privacy and the Patriot Act and their perceptions of its intrusiveness into their lives. The people who were on the panel answering questions included: Attorney General Alberto R. Gonzales, FBI Director Robert S. Mueller III and CIA Director Porter J. Goss
"From last week's hearings, it appears that there's broad support for the proposition that the act's provisions should be made permanent," with some changes, said Sen. John D. Rockefeller IV (D-W.Va.). Gonzales has proposed some technical modifications.
Civil rights groups and politicians, including conservative organizations, have criticized some provisions as lacking enough checks to avoid abuse. Members said their constituents continue to have fundamental questions, as Sen. Barbara A. Mikulski (D-Md.) put it, about "what agencies within the federal government can, quote, spy, or place American citizens under surveillance . . . Who does what, when?" It was a question easier asked than answered.
So can the CIA spy on the American people?" Mikulski asked Gonzales.
"The primary responsibility falls upon the Department of Justice, not the CIA."
"Can the CIA spy on the American -- " she tried again.
"No," answered Gonzales, only to be amended later by Mueller. "Surveillance of American citizens for national security matters is in the hands, generally, of the FBI," Mueller told Mikulski. "The investigation or development of intelligence overseas is in the hands of the CIA and NSA [National Security Agency]. And generally, I would say generally, they are not allowed to spy or to gather information on American citizens. But there are limited exceptions to that."
While the National Security Act prohibits the CIA from spying on U.S. citizens in the United States, the agency can, in limited cases, spy on U.S. citizens abroad who are in contact with foreigners who are the target of CIA surveillance for possible terrorism ties.
This is one piece of legislation that I have mixed feelings about. But, I do think that it is a necessary tool for U.S. citizens' safety. I also think that The Patriot Act does need to be revised and more specific in some areas.
I look forward to seeing everyone's well reasoned arguments.