I regard the Patriot Act as the greatest threat to individual freedom in the history of the US. It was created in good faith, and justified as a means to track down terrorists and defeat the terrorism threat. But, it can just as easily target US citizens.
Just about every intelligence investigative tool necessary to monitor terrorism was available prior to the Patriot Act; the difference was simply that intelligence officials had to justify their actions.
At worst, it might take a few minutes to prepare the forms and pass them over to the Attorney General’s office. But, that way, the AG could act as an element of reason in a hasty decision.
I managed a global operational organization for many years, and never found this process onerous. It was inconvenient, but reasonable. My support staff included a bunch of lawyers and a retired federal judge. If a crisis emerged, as they tend to do, I had the personal phone number of the Assistant AG who was available 24/7 to review/sign off on our requirements — or, to tell us to give him more justification.
In today’s world, a secure video-phone link would provide instant linkage, so the delay would be only the time to verbally review the situation with the AAG while he reviewed the e-documents.
The Patriot Act alternative is to place unlimited power in the hands of a single Intelligence/Law Enforcement operations unit, whose leadership could make snap, subjective decisions without a separate objective viewpoint or review.
I’ve seen really bad judgment calls on the part of ambitious, but unbalanced, Intelligence executives; I can only imagine how many of these bad calls — without penalty — have been rationalized using the Patriot Act.
Essentially, all it takes is for the executive to accuse a person of being a terrorist, or a terrorist sympathizer or contributor; which essentially arms him with the provisions of the Patriot Act. And, if the accused is a US citizen, he loses all his Constitutional rights; and he has no recourse.
If you don’t think this system can be abused, I refer you to the Grand Jury [aka: Star Chambers].
The potential for abuse under the Patriot Act goes well beyond one’s imagination.
Lets not incinerate the Bill of Rights in the name of Patriotism.