News Story

Civil Liberties Concerns Caused Amash to Vote Against PATRIOT Act

Tina Dupont didn’t know about one of the provisions of the PATRIOT Act until she read what U.S. Congressman Justin Amash had posted on his Facebook page.

Amash wrote he had voted Feb. 9 against extending three of the provisions of the national security act because: “[T]his renewal allows the government to obtain a broad production order to confiscate your business records, without disclosing to you the purposes of the investigation, while prohibiting you from discussing it with anyone.”

“That bothers me,” said Dupont, a member of the Tea Party of West Michigan. “If you are going to be arrested and things are going to be taken from you, at the least you should get an explanation. And then you can’t discuss that with anyone? Isn’t that scary?”

Amash’s No vote sparked national stories by the mainstream media that portrayed the vote as “an embarrassment” for the new House Republican leadership.

But Amash’s vote has garnered a lot of support among the tea party followers on Amash’s Facebook page.

“It’s too much,” said John Date of Midland, who belongs to the Tri-City 9/12 group. “Do they need a big club? Because that is all they know how to do anymore. What is the federal government up to? If they are unfocused, they will be abusive to our rights. They will be a big thug.”

In an e-mailed statement, Amash laid out his problems with the PATRIOT Act. Amash’s spokesman, Will Allen, said there was no opportunity to offer amendments on the bill. It required only an “up-or-down” vote and required two-thirds of the votes to pass. It failed 277-148.

“Like many Republicans and Democrats concerned with protecting civil liberties, I have serious reservations about the USA PATRIOT Act provisions up for renewal,” Amash’s statement read. “The business records provision allows the government to order the production of ‘any tangible things’ — e-mails, phone logs, and even library records. Worse still, the company turning over the records to the government is forbidden from telling the records’ owner of the order. Likewise, the Act’s roving wiretap provision goes far beyond a similar provision in criminal law.  It may allow the government continuously to monitor pay phones or public computers, even when a suspect is not using the devices. The breadth of the provisions raises serious Fourth Amendment concerns in my mind, and I cannot support them as currently written.”

The three provisions of the PATRIOT Act that were set to expire Feb. 28 were roving wiretaps in Section 206 of the Patriot Act, the “Lone Wolf” amendment to the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act and the Business Records/Tangible Things orders in Section 215 of the PATRIOT Act.

Julian Sanchez, research fellow at the Cato Institute, agreed with Amash’s vote.

“There is an array of serious concerns about these provisions as currently written, many of which could actually be fixed relatively easily without seriously burdening terror investigations,” Sanchez said. “Congress has a responsibility to give these issues serious consideration, rather than simply ramming through another fast-track reauthorization and kicking the can down the road another year.”

The “Lone Wolf” provision allows the government to do surveillance and physical searches of non-U.S. citizens without having to find a connection between that “lone wolf” and a terrorist organization.

Sanchez said that the “Lone Wolf” provision has never been used. He stated that the FISA (Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act) court granted roving wiretaps an average of 22 times per year and that FISA issued 1,320 electronic surveillance orders in 2009. Roving wire taps were not a big part of the investigations. Sanchez said there were 21 business records orders in 2009.

The authority doesn’t disappear if the provisions aren’t approved, he notes. They will just go back to the narrower, pre-Patriot Act status.

“So the evidence is just incredibly thin that intelligence agencies would somehow be lost without these three,” Sanchez wrote in an e-mail.

The PATRIOT Act bill is expected to be brought back for another vote, at which time amendments may be accepted.

Michigan Capitol Confidential is the news source produced by the Mackinac Center for Public Policy. Michigan Capitol Confidential reports with a free-market news perspective.