Naked City

Patriot II, Piece by Piece

Rep. Ron Paul,  R-Surfside, calls the new law allowing financial snooping outrageous and unacceptable.
Rep. Ron Paul, R-Surfside, calls the new law allowing financial snooping "outrageous and unacceptable."

While the so-called Patriot Act II -- a wish list of sweeping powers dreamed up last year by U.S. Attorney General John Ashcroft to augment 2001's USA PATRIOT Act -- disappeared shortly after a draft copy was made public early last year, it did not die. In fact, on Saturday, Dec. 13 -- as news of Saddam Hussein's capture drove the news cycle -- President George W. Bush signed into law a bill that will allow the federal government broad access to individuals' financial records without a court order. This allows the government to sidestep decades-old financial privacy laws, all in the name of preventing terrorism.

House Bill 2417, the Intelligence Authorization Act for fiscal year 2004, debuted in Congress last June, and was pushed back and forth between the House and Senate for nearly five months before finally making its way to Bush's desk on Dec. 2. The lengthy perennial bill authorizes appropriations for all intelligence-related activities and, on the whole, is fairly standard. However, the final bill was amended by the Senate to include a section that redefines and broadens the phrase "financial institution" -- an obscure yet sweeping change that, at least until challenged in court, will allow the federal government the ability to snoop into nearly every financial aspect of individuals' lives.

Previously, federal law enforcement officials could gain access to individuals' financial records from a bank only if those individuals were suspected of crimes and only after gaining the approval of a federal judge. But the new IAA not only allows the feds to snoop through financial records without a warrant and without demonstrating the person is actually a suspect in a crime, but also broadens the arena for snooping. The legal definition of "financial institution" previously referred only to banks. But now, the feds can examine financial records held by stockbrokers, car dealerships, casinos, credit card companies, insurance agents, jewelers, airlines, pawnbrokers, the U.S. Postal Service, and any other business "whose cash transactions have a high degree of usefulness in criminal, tax, or regulatory matters." Federal law enforcers need only draft a "National Security Letter" requesting the records in order to get them.

This change ultimately passed the U.S. House, but not before a handful of legislators -- including Texas Rep. Ron Paul, R-Surfside -- voiced stern opposition. "These expanded internal police powers will enable the FBI to demand transaction records from businesses ... without the approval or knowledge of a judge or grand jury," Paul said during a speech from the House floor on Nov. 20. "This was written into the bill at the 11th hour over the objections of members of the Senate Judiciary Committee, which would normally have jurisdiction over the FBI. The Judiciary Committee was frozen out of the process. It appears we are witnessing a stealth enactment of the enormously unpopular 'Patriot II' legislation that was first leaked several months ago. Perhaps the national outcry when a draft of the Patriot II act was leaked has led its supporters to enact it one piece at a time in secret. Whatever the case, this is outrageous and unacceptable."

In the end Paul was one of 163 legislators (including fellow Texans Lloyd Doggett and Sheila Jackson Lee and presidential candidate Dennis Kucinich) to vote against the entire IAA solely because of the draconian amendment. "How this will take effect and what the limits of it are will probably be fought out in the courts," said Paul spokesman Jeff Deist. So far, Deist said, the IAA amendment is the first of the so-called Patriot II measures to make its way into legislation, but he expects it won't be the last. "January is a whole new ballgame," he said.

Got something to say? The Chronicle welcomes opinion pieces on any topic from the community. Submit yours now at austinchronicle.com/opinion.

  • More of the Story

  • Naked City

    Headlines and happenings from Austin and beyond

    Naked City

    Ralph Hall makes the switch, Arlene takes the plunge, and Gus flirts -- again -- with unretirement.

    Naked City

    Michael Olsen won't face trial in relation to a Sixth Street altercation in 2002.

    Naked City

    Who'll be shooting whom between now and March 9?
  • Naked City

    After years of controversy, the feds finally crack down on "herbal speed."

    Naked City

    Do Texas M.D.s now have to report pregnant drug users?

    Naked City

    New wind-power customers would still pay a premium for GreenChoice.

    Naked City

    Which contenders pass the medical marijuana test?

A note to readers: Bold and uncensored, The Austin Chronicle has been Austin’s independent news source for almost 40 years, expressing the community’s political and environmental concerns and supporting its active cultural scene. Now more than ever, we need your support to continue supplying Austin with independent, free press. If real news is important to you, please consider making a donation of $5, $10 or whatever you can afford, to help keep our journalism on stands.

Support the Chronicle  

READ MORE
More Patriot Act
Letters at 3AM: Things Like That
Letters at 3AM: Things Like That
Under Obama, we have been subjected to a Patriot Act on steroids

Michael Ventura, Nov. 2, 2012

More by Jordan Smith
'Chrome Underground' Goes Classic Car Hunting
'Chrome Underground' Goes Classic Car Hunting
Motoreum's Yusuf & Antonio talk about the biz and their reality TV debut

May 22, 2014

APD Brass Shifts Up, Down, Across
APD Brass Shifts Up, Down, Across
Musical chairs at Downtown HQ

May 9, 2014

KEYWORDS FOR THIS STORY

Patriot Act, Patriot II, Ron Paul, John Ashcroft, Jeff Deist, HR 2417, Intelligence Authorization Act

MORE IN THE ARCHIVES
NEWSLETTERS
One click gets you all the newsletters listed below

Breaking news, arts coverage, and daily events

Can't keep up with happenings around town? We can help.

Austin's queerest news and events

Eric Goodman's Austin FC column, other soccer news

Behind the scenes at The Austin Chronicle

Information is power. Support the free press, so we can support Austin.   Support the Chronicle