Last week, the Department of Justice Inspector General's office released a damning report documenting the FBI abusing its powers under the PATRIOT Act and violating the law to collect Americans' telephone, Internet, financial, credit, and other personal records about Americans without judicial approval.
It appears that not everyone at the DOJ got the memo. The DOJ's Life and Liberty website, a site dedicated to defending the honor of the PATRIOT Act during the re-authorization process last spring, still reads as if nothing has changed. Particularly in the light of the newly revealed truth, many of the quotes now seem (at best) naive.
Under the headline of "Examining the Facts", the DOJ asserts that PATRIOT has "four-year track record with no verified civil liberties abuses." The site quotes an op-ed by former House Judiciary Committee Chairman James Sensenbrenner:
Zero. That's the number of substantiated USA PATRIOT Act civil liberties violations. Extensive congressional oversight found no violations. Six reports by the Justice Department's independent Inspector General, who is required to solicit and investigate any allegations of abuse, found no violations.
Wow, that sure sounds good. Unfortunately, the new report reveals that is is simply not true: the inspector general identifies dozens of instances in which extra-judicial demands for personal information -- known as National Security Letters -- may have violated laws and agency regulations.
I regret to say it, but the rhetoric of those opposed to permanently authorizing the act has no substance and borders on paranoia. Opponents have criticized the act for years but can cite only hypothetical abuses. Facts are stubborn things. The actual record is quite clear - there have been no substantiated allegations of abuse of Patriot Act authorities, period.
Critics could only point to hypothetical abuses because the fox was guarding the hen house. Senator Roberts also opined that:
Through aggressive congressional oversight, we know the FBI uses Patriot Act authorities within the law.
It's now clearer than ever that the oversight was not aggressive enough, with the report documenting that the FBI decieved Congress about its use of the letters. The report is likely only the tip of the iceberg. Immediate and thorough oversight hearings are necessary to uncover the truth and hold the Administration accountable.