In Washington, DC on Sunday, demonstrators rallied in front of the White House in protest of repressive governments around the world.
Included in the protests were those opposed to extending the USA PATRIOT Act, which gives law enforcement authorities sweeping surveillance powers that have been criticized for endangering innocent American’s civil liberties.
“The American citizenry has been giving up their rights over the last eleven years,” Tighe Barry of CODEPINK told Press TV at the protest. “It’s a shame that someone like George Bush, who came into power, thought he could just tear up parts of our constitution.”
Congress passed a bill in February that extended three controversial provisions of the PATRIOT Act until May 27.
The three provisions allow authorities to conduct surveillance without identifying the person or location to be wiretapped, permits surveillance of “non-US” persons who are not affiliated with a terrorist group, and allows law enforcement to gain access to “any tangible thing” during investigations.
“It creates a very ‘Big Brother’ atmosphere where the government can monitor everything,” Ginger McCall of the Electronic Privacy Information Center said.
The protesters called for a repeal of the PATRIOT Act, claiming it gave the government too much power to conduct surveillance of Americans.
Senators push for reform of PATRIOT Act
Congress is expected to pass a longer extension of the PATRIOT Act, but some senators have vowed to amend the legislation to ensure American’s civil liberties are protected.
Senate Minority Whip Dick Durbin (D-IL) has proposed an amendment to the bill that would require the government to describe the target of a roving wiretap “with particularity.”
“Roving wiretaps, which do not require the government to specify the place to be bugged, are designed to allow law enforcement to track targets who evade surveillance by frequently changing phones,” he explained. “Before the PATRIOT Act, roving wiretaps were only permitted for criminal investigations.”
“Unfortunately, the PATRIOT Act did not include sufficient checks to protect innocent Americans from unwarranted government surveillance,” Sen. Durbin continued. “Under current law, the FBI is not required to ascertain the presence of the target of the wiretap at the place being wiretapped, as it is for criminal wiretaps.”
Sen. Ron Wyden (D-OR), a senior member of the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence, also introduced legislation in February to narrow the PATRIOT Act’s section 215 provision, which allows law enforcement to obtain “any tangible thing,” including library and bookstore records.
“Government agents should not be able to collect this sort of information on law abiding American citizens without showing that they have at least some connection to terrorism or other nefarious activities,” he said.
Wyden’s bill would force law enforcement to demonstrate that the records were in some way connected to terrorism or clandestine intelligence activities before gathering the information.
Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman Patrick Leahy (D-VT) has also recently sought to reform the PATRIOT Act by increasing judicial oversight of government surveillance powers.