John Ashcroft respects your rights.
Attorney General John Ashcroft denounced as “hysteria” the contention by some librarians and civil liberties groups that the FBI can use a new anti-terror law to snoop into Americans’ reading habits.
In a speech Monday to an American Restaurant Association conference, Ashcroft said people are being wrongly led to believe that libraries have been “surrounded by the FBI,” with agents “dressed in raincoats, dark suits and sunglasses. They stop everyone and interrogate everyone like Joe Friday.
If you haven’t been keeping score, it’s: Ashcroft 1; Straw Man 0.
Who, other than the Black Helicopter crowd, ever thought that the PATRIOT ACT would lead to your local Barnes & Noble being “surrounded by the FBI”?
Now, raise your hand if you think that the PATRIOT ACT enables the Justice Department to snoop into your reading habits? For every visitor Sitemeter records today, I hope to see a raised hand. Because the PATRIOT ACT allows just that, among other slightly (and not-so-slightly) nasty things.
Want to use racial profiling in figuring out which passengers to check for ‘sploding loafers? Fine. Not a whole lot of vacationing Swedes have hijacked American Airlines. We can make everybody take off their shoes, or we can concentrate our efforts to where they’ll do the most good. Want to use my public library’s computer to find out I have a weakness for Elmore Leonard? That’s not fine.
Listen to me now. Just because a warrantless government investigation uncovers information as harmless as the fact that I’ve checked out Rum Punch three times, doesn’t make the investigation Constitutional.
And as I read it, the government has no business snooping into records — for whatever reason — without probable cause. Read:
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, supported by oath or affirmation, and particularly describing the place to be searched, and the persons or things to be seized.
That’s not a straw man; that’s the Fourth Amendment to the Constitution of the United States of America. And unlike the local library in Ashcroft’s dreamworld, it isn’t guarded by the FBI — it’s supposed to be protected by our courts.
So where are our courts on this issue?
UPDATE: More on why Republicans really support the PATRIOT ACT here.