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By Dahlia Lithwick and Julia Turner
there's the John Ashcroft "Patriot Rocks" concert tour, launched last month, which has him visiting 18 cities and talking up the act to local law enforcement officials. The DOJ also unloosed a new Web site last month, designed to shore up support for the act. Ashcroft contends that had the Patriot Act been in place earlier, 9/11 wouldn't have happened and that absent a Patriot Act, the country may have seen more 9/11s over the past two years—a double-double negative that's unprovable, but enough to scare you witless. There have also been a raft of op-eds and articles—some evidently written by Ashcroft's U.S. attorneys at knifepoint—simultaneously making the point that the act has staved off unspeakable acts of terror while maintaining that it made only tiny infinitesimal changes to the existing laws.
Copies of "Patriot II"—the act that was intended to follow Patriot and grant the government even broader powers—were leaked to the press last winter, and while the ensuing ruckus ensured that Patriot II is dead, much of it will evidently rise again this fall in the guise of the VICTORY Act.
Section 215 modifies the rules on records searches. Post-Patriot Act, third-party holders of your financial, library, travel, video rental, phone, medical, church, synagogue, and mosque records can be searched without your knowledge or consent, providing the government says it's trying to protect against terrorism.
Would you know if Section 215 had been used on you? Nope. The person made to turn over the records is gagged and cannot disclose the search to anyone.
The first lawsuit against the Patriot Act was filed by the ACLU on July 30 this year, targeting Section 215. The suit has six mostly Arab and Muslim American groups as plaintiffs. Their claim is that 215 violates the Constitution and "vastly expands the power of the [FBI] to obtain records and other 'tangible things' of people not suspected of criminal activity."
By Tom Brune
After visiting more than a dozen cities in the past month to defend the controversial anti-terrorism Patriot Act, Attorney General John Ashcroft is scheduled to end his tour today with an appearance at Federal Hall in Manhattan.
Faced with growing unease in Congress and among the public, Ashcroft launched the tour last month to boost support for the Patriot Act, which has become a symbol for his overall conduct of the domestic war on terrorism.
The ACLU and others have lambasted the act's expansion of spying and police powers, especially the FBI's ability to obtain warrants to order businesses and libraries to turn over records.