ORLANDO – By just seven votes, the U.S. House of Representatives failed to renew the Patriot Act, and it was a number of Republicans affiliated with the Tea Party movement who helped defeat it.
Those members of the Tea Party Caucus joined 18 other Republicans and most House Democrats in blocking the reauthorization of certain provisions in the Patriot Act, echoing complaints that the law asks Americans to sacrifice too many of their civil liberties.
It’s a sentiment shared by members of the Florida Tea Party, who say the Patriot Act, which was signed into law by President Bush in October 2001, was a mistake from the start.
“I’m happy this is clearly going to be reviewed,” said Peg Dunmire, chairman of the Florida Tea Party. “I’ve had a problem with the Patriot Act and its warrantless searches.”
The act was passed shortly after the Sept. 11, 2001 terrorist attacks on the World Trade Center in New York City and the Pentagon building in Washington, D.C. Aimed at making it easier for law enforcement to combat suspected terrorism, the act reduced restrictions on law enforcement agencies’ ability to search private records, including individuals’ telephone, e-mail, medical, and financial files. It also expanded the Secretary of the Treasury’s authority to regulate financial transactions.
Critics have attacked provisions that allow law enforcement officers to search a home or business without the owner’s or occupant’s permission or knowledge, and provisions allowing the Federal Bureau of Investigation to search email, telephone and financial records without first obtaining a court order.
Dunmire joined those critics, saying the Patriot Act is a blazen violation of the Fourth Amendment to the Constitution, which states, “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.”
“There were provisions in the Patriot Act that they can come into your house, search your house, and not tell you,” Dunmire said. “These are all an affront to the Fourth Amenment.”
Doug Guetzloe, founder of Ax the Tax and a political advisor to the Tea Party, agreed.
“To me, it’s just an outrage,” said Guetzloe, host of The Guetzloe Report on the Phoenix Network. “You cannot trade liberty for security.”
Noting that the House Republican leadership plans to bring up the Patriot Act renewal for a second vote, Guetzloe cautioned that “It’s not over yet, although the initial response from Congress was excellent. We’re hopeful it will not be renewed. It’s a complete invasion of our constitutional rights.”
Allowing warrantless wiretaps, Guetzloe said, grants far too much power to the federal government – power that could potentially be abused in the future.
“To what effect has it made us safer? Absolutely none, except that it has increased governmental power,” said Guetzloe. “We are guaranteed under the Fourth Amendment the right of people to be secure in their house. This has been a huge invasion of privacy. It has increased government control over the Internet exponentially.”
Even if someone posts comments on the Internet that arouse suspicion, Guetzloe said, law enforcement “should get a warrant first. If you follow the Constitution, there shouldn’t be a Patriot Act.”
Dunmire also criticized the very premise of the Patriot Act — that it grants law enforcement the tools needed to protect the American people from foreign or domestic terrorism.
“The role of the government is to secure your rights,” she said. “That’s the role of government. I hate to break it to anybody, but there are no guarantees that we will be safe.”
Dunmire added that enough time has lapsed since the 9/11 attacks that this nation can combat terrorism without sacrificing personal liberties.
“Time has now passed,” Dunmire said. “We have to be smarter about how we will deal with this threat. But we should never let the government take away our rights.”
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