Thoughts, essays, and writings on Liberty. Written by the heirs of Patrick Henry.

September 29, 2009

PATRIOT Act – Much Ado About Drugs, Not About Terrorism

by Brad Warbiany

The PATRIOT Act was sold to the country as the line in the sand protecting us from the murderous hordes of Islamist terrorists. Passed in a hurry following 9/11, they told us that these powers were needed for terrorism only, and not for general law-enforcement. Civil libertarians didn’t believe this assertion, of course, and as usual when it comes to government power, we were right (link to PDF report).

In a traditional search warrant, the person/people/place being search are notified when the search is conducted. One aspect of the PATRIOT Act is the delayed notification warrant, aka the “Sneak and Peek”. For this, the search is conducted but the person being investigated is not told that the search was executed for some delayed time afterwards. For a terrorism surveillance case, this allows investigators to attempt to detect plots in the planning stage.

In the government’s FY2008 (Oct’07 to Sep’08), 763 new warrants were obtained. Of these new warrants, a mere 3 were for terrorism. What were the rest?

Table 2 presents the types of offenses specified in delayed-notice search warrant and extension requests reported in 2008. Drug offenses were specified in 65 percent of applications reported, followed by fraud (5 percent), weapons, and tax offenses (4 percent each).

Someday, the warnings issued by libertarians — rather than being ignored — will actually be heeded. On that day I will die of shock.

Hat Tip: David Rittgers, Cato@Liberty

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