Tuesday, October 13, 2009

PATRIOT Act Reauthorization Article

I'm an editor for the BYU Political Review this semester (it's a blast, by the way) and also an occasional writer. The latter is the reason for this post. By popular demand (of one older sister), I'm posting a link to my rough draft: read it here. It has some notes and random crap at the end that you can ignore, or not. And just so this post has a little bit of meat to, I'll quote a bit of it here as well:

The government's intentions are noble, and who are these armchair quarterbacks, these backseat civil liberties drivers, to criticize good-faith efforts to protect us? Sadly, the government itself has admitted that mistakes--sometimes small, sometimes serious--have been made in using these powers. One example is the use of the PATRIOT Act outside its intended sphere of use: So-called "sneak and peek" warrants that allow the government to search a home or business without telling the owners for up to 30 days afterwards have only been used 3 times in counter-terrorist investigations; the hundreds of other uses were in drug investigations. Also, the FBI's own Office of the Inspector General testified before congress that the FBI severely underreported violations and irregularities in their requesting of private records. Violations ranged from mundane mistakes to acquiring records beyond what even the PATRIOT Act allows, requesting information without authorization, and requesting records for people not connected to any investigations. ...

America faces real threats to its safety, and the PATRIOT Act gives the government many tools it needs to protect us. As the law currently stands, civil liberties are not sufficiently protected, but there does not need to be a choice between safety and constitutional rights. Senator Feingold (D.-Wis.) proposed the JUSTICE Act which would still give the government the powers it needs to fight terrorists while still respecting Americans' privacy. Sadly it was defeated, and the PATRIOT Act was renewed with minimal added protections for civil liberties. We have missed an opportunity to stand with the founders of our nation, who fought for the right of citizens to be free from broad government searches. Our next major chance for reform will be in 2013, when these same provisions will be up for review again.

So, any thoughts? How can I improve it? Does it explain my concerns effectively? Be vicious; this is a first draft, after all.


  1. Sorry I didn't have time to read this until now! The article is really good (although I wish you could go more in depth - how long is your word limit?).

    My main suggestion/criticism is to make the paragraphs smaller, because they are already long on a web page, and in newspaper columns they will be WAY too long. Also some of your sentences are a bit too long. Try to keep each sentence crisp so that it has punch.

    You are making a nuanced point (which is good, but difficult to do - it's easier to bash it to pieces or say "my country, right or wrong"). You seem to be saying that parts of the Patriot Act are good, and parts bad. My question is: what evidence do we have that the act actually works? Has it stopped any known acts of terrorism? Could we have prevented these acts of terrorism without the powers of the Patriot act? If you are making an argument that the act works you need to show evidence of that.

    Also, your discussion of the Justice Act leaves me wanting more (maybe this is just space limitations again). What specifically did Feingold propose and why would these safeguards have helped?

    Sorry for the long comments :) I'm probably more against the patriot act than you are, but I think you know more about it, so kudos to you, our civil liberties expert!

  2. The paragraph length is a tough one. I agree, they are pretty long, but I don't really know how to split them up cuz they sort of have to explain a lot (since it's a bit of a dense issue). I'll see what I can do though. And with subsequent editing some of the longer sentences have indeed been pared down.

    That's true, I don't cite much evidence that the Act works. I can put that in, thanks for calling me out on it!

    I wish I could talk more about the JUSTICE bill, cuz it was pretty awesome, but length limits don't allow much for that. I could probably put in at least a sentence that generally describes its thrust, though.

    No worries on the long comment (after all, as you pointed out I have pretty long paragraphs myself), it was very helpful. Thanks for reading!