Monday, September 10, 2007

Justice--a bit delayed

The infamous Patriot Act--parts of it, anyway--just may, finally, be on the ropes. I hope you haven't been holding your breath.

The scandal over the FBI's abuse of national security letters has reaped appropriate rewards. Last week, U.S. District Judge Victor Marrero ruled (PDF) that the use of the letters, without a warrant, to snoop through e-mail and telephone data is unconstitutional. Specifically, Marrero said the letters violate the separation of powers, since there's little judicial oversight, and the First Amendment, since the FBI can forbid recipients of the letters to reveal that they've received the nasty things.

Not mincing words, Marrero said the use of NSLs is "the legislative equivalent of breaking and entering."

Ain't that right.

As court challenges go, this is relatively fast work--only half a decade, give or take, for the courts to find (for the second time) that the Patriot Act's national security letters are an outrageous invasion of our rights. That really is about as fast as the judicial system is capable of moving--which is not a particularly encouraging thought as we tally up the tens of thousands of national security letters the FBI issued every year after the passage of the Patriot Act.

If you're looking for quick solutions to civil liberties violations, lawsuits are probably not the way to go. Even now, the federal government is expected to appeal Marrero's decision and further drag out the process.

On another front, Oregon attorney Brandon Mayfield--he of wrongly-fingered-by-the-FBI -as-a-terrorist fame--is in court with his own challenge to the Patriot Act provisions that resulted in his incarceration in the wake of the Madrid bombings. He spent two weeks in stir before the feds admitted they'd made a mistake.

Note, the Madrid attack, and Mayfield's resulting incarceration, were three years ago.

Once again, the legal system proves to be a circuitous route for righting a wrong inflicted by government officials.

I'm heartened that the courts are still capable of being outraged by some government actions. But when I consider how much officials can get away with during the long process of lawsuits and appeals, I'm not sure that such civil liberties decisions are much more than hollow victories.

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Anonymous Anonymous said...

^^ nice blog!! ^@^

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March 18, 2009 11:30 PM  

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