Ahead of the 2008 election, the Patriot Act was a major campaign issue. “I will provide our intelligence and law enforcement agencies with the tools they need to track and take out the terrorists without undermining our Constitution and our freedom," then-Senator Obama said in 2007. "That means no more illegal wiretapping of American citizens, no more national security letters to spy on citizens who are not suspected of a crime, no more tracking citizens who do nothing more than protest a misguided war, no more breaking the law when it is inconvenient. That is not who we are and that is not what is necessary to defeat the terrorists.”
Once he was in office, though, President Obama quietly reinforced the measures laid out by the Bush Administration in the Patriot Act, using an autopen to sign an extension of the Patriot Act. Now, nearly four years later, any substantive discussion of the Patriot Act is all but missing from the campaign trail.
How did this hot issue become a non-issue? Has the country forgotten about the Patriot Act? Or do the candidates just hope that we have? Karen Greenberg, director of the Center on National Security at Fordham University's School of Law, takes a closer look as part of The Takeaway's Don't Mention It Series.
"It's interesting that in the wake of the killing of Bin Laden, that Obama chose to sign those provisions, and to continue them into the future," Greenberg says."And neither then, nor since then, has there been any discussion, substantive or otherwise."
Professor Greenberg says that the Patriot Act calls into question a whole slew of Constitutional protections by allowing for searches without warrants, and adopting a "quantity over quality" approach. Rather than using intelligence and targeting those who are legitimate suspects, she says the strategy since September 11th has been tap phones first, ask questions later. "It used to be that if you wanted to target an individual for a particular terrorist activity, you would have to tie them, let's say, to a foreign terrorist organization. You no longer necessary have to do that, you just have to suspect them."
Professor Greenberg says that perhaps voters are not focused on the Patriot Act in this upcoming election, because it doesn't seem to pertain to most Americans. But she believes that compromising on Constitutional protections is a slippery slope. "Once you start to say, well, you know, maybe we shouldn't honor Miranda Rights," she says, "you begin to open up a whole conversation that we don't want to have resolution on."