The Fourth Amendment to the Constitution of the United States guarantees for all people protection from unreasonable search and seizure. The amendment reads: “The right of the people to be secure in their persons, houses, papers, and effects, against unreasonable searches and seizures, shall not be violated, and no Warrants shall issue, but upon probable cause, supported by Oath or affirmation, and particularly describing the place to be searched, and the persons or things to be seized.”
The Constitution’s limitation on government searches to particular people, places and things is extremely important because it prevents the government from merely asserting that it is looking for something, and then using that assertion as a license to search and seize whatever it wants. The allegation of a crime or criminal conspiracy in one place cannot, according to the Constitution, be used to establish widely ranging invasions of privacy by government agents.
Nonetheless, the Patriot Act’s “Roving Wiretap” provision allows just that sort of unconstitutional search and seizure to take place. U.S. Representative Judy Chu spoke out against this aspect of the Patriot Act, even as the House of Representatives was extending the broad surveillance power without any reforms. Chu said of this Orwellian spy power:
“If the FBI wants to wiretap a phone, they don’t even have to know who they’re listening to. They don’t even have to get a court’s permission to tap a phone before they start listening.
Now, last year, I voted on a bill that would at a minimum require the government to name the place or person they want to listen to. But does this bill include that simple protection? No.
These provisions, including the provision to allow the FBI to access your private information, even the books that you read, make a mockery of our civil liberties – letting the government spy on whomever they want for any reason without letting Americans know or without giving them a chance to challenge that order in court.”
The legislation extending the lifetime of the Patriot Act’s Roving Wiretap powers, H.R. 514, passed the House and was signed into law. However, it must be re-extended again two and a half months from now, or this unconstitutional power will expire.
A protest against Roving Wiretap abuses, and against the rest of the Patriot Act, is taking place soon. On Saturday, March 12, a group of protesters will meet outside the U.S. Capitol to demand repeal of the Patriot Act. For more information, visit the Patriot Act Protest page on Facebook.