Free Market Think Tank Urges House to Reject Patriot Act Extension

Washington, D.C., February 8, 2011 – Today, the House of Representatives is scheduled to vote on an extension of three provisions of the Patriot Act, a bill enacted in 2001 to strengthen government’s ability to combat terrorism.

However, the Competitive Enterprise Institute urged members of Congress to reject the Patriot Act extension, arguing that the provisions up for renewal hinder individual liberties, lack meaningful safeguards, and likely violate the U.S. Constitution.

“Ensuring that U.S. intelligence and law enforcement agencies possess the tools needed to safeguard the American people and combat terrorism is very important, but provisions of the Patriot Act that allow government to secretly monitor and track our private communications are fundamentally at odds with our free society,” said CEI Senior Attorney Hans Bader.

“Section 215 of the Patriot Act, which allows the government to secretly obtain citizens’ private records without any judicial review whatsoever, is ripe for abuse for political purposes. The Act’s broadly written ‘roving wiretap’ provision is also deeply troubling for individual liberties, especially because the secrecy that surrounds foreign intelligence investigations precludes meaningful public oversight,” Bader added.

“If the wireless and broadband sectors—the economic engines of the information age—are to realize their full potential, the federal government must respect the rights of law-abiding citizens to communicate in private, free from unwarranted surveillance,” said CEI Associate Director of Technology Studies Ryan Radia. “As digital communications grow ever-more ubiquitous and privacy concerns surrounding the sharing of electronic information intensify, the evolution of e-commerce and cloud computing will be stymied if legitimate fears of government snooping continue to fall on deaf ears in Congress.”

“If the House renews the Patriot Act today without adding in robust safeguards, it would send a signal to Americans – and to foreign firms that conduct business in the United States – that Congress is unwilling to perform its duty under the Constitution to meaningfully balance privacy interests against national security concerns,” Radia added.