10 Years of the PATRIOT Act: Bait and Switch for the Drug War


Sweeping Surveillance Law’s ‘Sneak-and-Peek’ Provision Primarily Used In Drug Cases, Not Against Terrorists

Ten years ago today, on October 26, 2001, President George W. Bush signed the USA PATRIOT Act. Congress had brushed aside constitutional concerns and overwhelmingly passed the law just weeks after the 9-11 attacks. The law gives the FBI vastly increased powers to collect information in cases that involve “national security.”

In the decade since this steaming pile of Constitution-shredding nonsense was passed by a gutless and lemming-like Congress, civil liberties groups have pointed out that the PATRIOT Act goes too far by gathering too much data and violating peoples’ right to privacy.
One of the worst parts of the PATRIOT Act (PATRIOT stands for Providing Appropriate Tools Required [to]Intercept [and]Obstruct Terrorism) is Section 213, its “Sneak-and-Peek” provision, which allows authorities to search a home or business without immediately notifying the target of an investigation that they have been searched.
Of course, the idea that Sneak-and-Peek would only be used against potential terrorists was quickly left in the dust, as the provision became a key tool in the federal government’s War On Drugs. Sneak-and-Peek is now primarily used for drug cases and minor crimes, NPR’s Carrie Johnson reported on October 26.

Michelle Richardson, ACLU: “They’re instead being used primarily in drug cases, in immigration cases, and some fraud.”

​​”We’re now finding from public reports that less than one percent of these sneak-and-peek searches are happening for terrorism investigations,” said Michelle Richardson, who works for the American Civil Liberties Union in Washington, D.C. “They’re instead being used primarily in drug cases, in immigration cases, and some fraud.”
The Justice Department apparently can’t even point to specific terrorism cases it has built thanks to the PATRIOT Act, raising questions about whether this Bill of Rights-killer really even works at all.
While certain onerous provisions of the PATRIOT Act have sunset provisions — meaning they expire unless Congress specifically renews them (which, unfortunately, it has done several times in the past 10 years, with only minor changes) — sneak-and-peek does not expire as do the other controversial provisions, so it’s going to be a lot harder for opponents to amend it.
Gee, thanks, Congress!
The PATRIOT Act took us several giant steps closer to the Total Surveillance Society, as I pointed out back in 2008. We lost a huge chunk of “that part of being human that claims the right to be left alone, that knows freedom from the prying eyes of the corporate state, that has the boldness to claim some inner sanctum where the all-seeing eyes of technology cannot penetrate.”

​”You don’t have to look far into history to know that when the government, any government, is given secret authorities, that those authorities are ultimately abused,” Mike German, a former FBI agent, told the Baltimore Sun in 2008.
“You don’t even have to attribute bad motives to anyone. In an intelligence officer’s zeal to protect the country, they will often overstep their bounds,” German said.
Coming Up Next?
Something Even Worse
According to Richardson at the ACLU, who hasn’t given up on efforts to get lawmakers to scrap some parts of the PATRIOT Act, there’s an even bigger surveillance effort in the works now.
The White House’s cybersecurity proposal right now makes the PATRIOT Act look quaint,” Richardson said. “And really, the collection that it would allow would really outpace anything that’s probably being done under the PATRIOT Act.”
Two Democratic senators, Ron Wyden of Oregon and Mark Udall of Colorado, have been demanding this year that the Department of Justice go public with a classified interpretation of one part of the PATRIOT Act that they say would “surprise and anger” the public.
“It’s time to have an open discussion about the direction that our country’s going in, in terms of all this privacy and justifying everything with national security,” said Nicholas Merrill, one of the few people to fight a request for information from the FBI that came in the form of something called a “national security letter.”
“I find it kind of upsetting that there’s still so much secrecy surrounding these powers and their actual use, even to this day,” Merrill said.