OK, I said in the News Roundup that I might be getting back to this one, so here we are.
The Justice Department unveiled yesterday extensive new details of its use of the USA Patriot Act in a bid to shore up support for the embattled anti-terrorism law, asserting that it has helped thwart al Qaeda plots and led to scores of criminal convictions since the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks.
According to a 29-page report to Congress released by Attorney General John D. Ashcroft, Justice Department terrorism investigations have resulted in charges against 310 people and have yielded 179 convictions or guilty pleas. The report says the Patriot Act was central to those cases.
The report also chronicles numerous instances in which the law has been used in traditional criminal investigations, from child pornography prosecutions to the rescue of a kidnapped 88-year-old woman. Ashcroft and other Bush administration officials had not previously revealed the extent to which law enforcement authorities were able to investigate such crimes under the expanded powers provided by the law....
The Justice Department report says that the Patriot Act was crucial in the prosecution of suspected members of al Qaeda cells in Lackawanna, N.Y., and Portland, Ore., and that it allowed authorities to more easily prosecute dozens of defendants for allegedly providing "material support" to terrorist groups. The report outlines lesser known prosecutions that it characterizes as related to terrorism, including cases involving the Islamic Resistance Movement, a Palestinian group also known as Hamas, and the rebel group FARC in Colombia.
The report provides as examples lengthy accounts of non-terrorism cases in which the Patriot Act played a central role, including investigations of a couple who allegedly defrauded widows and orphans, and of an Indiana man accused of filming the sexual abuse of his 13-year-old daughter. Sensenbrenner highlighted the case of the Wisconsin woman, 88, who was kidnapped in 2003. She was rescued after officials used the Patriot Act to obtain information from Internet service providers.
But Anthony D. Romero, executive director of the American Civil Liberties Union, said the examples indicate that "the Patriot Act went too far too fast, and gave law enforcement officials too much power that had nothing to do with terrorism."
So yeah, it's about the same as it was last year, just talking about the good parts of it, and leaving out any details about the parts people seriously object to. Plus la change, plus la meme. (Pardon my French if I've missed accent marks or something.) Nothing about whether the library and bookstore records provisions have been used at all. But then, I'm still not sure whether it'd be better if they had put them to good use or never used them at all. Either way, though, I'd still dearly love to see that go.