I won’t attempt any sort of comprehensive summary of Kerr’s talk or provide any quotes. But I will say that I found it informative and...refreshing. For there was an actual discussion about the Patriot Act without a resort to hysterics!
Kerr noted that there are, in a sense, two Patriot Acts: 1) the Patriot Act that was actually passed by the Congress and signed by the President; and 2) the Patriot Act as portrayed through certain media outlets, the ACLU and like-minded, outspoken critics. He pointed out that there is a wide gap between these respective versions.
One might say there is now a convergence of these two versions in Congress, as many provisions of the Patriot Act are set to expire under it sunshine provisions. Congress has the task of examining such provisions, with an eye toward renewal. The differences between the Patriot Act's opponents and propoenents are smaller than commonly perceived through media accounts, and those differences will be dealt with accordingly. One should not expect all sides to come away with everything they want, but some compromises will be made on the differences.
Kerr did say that there are two provisions of the Patriot Act for which some legitimate objections have been raised, (and for which there is some acknowledgement by the Department of Justice). Specifically, Kerr cited the “sneak and peek” provision concerning the execution of warrants and delayed notice. Such delayed notice procedures are nothing new to American law, but in times past the reasonable delay in executing such warrants was set by judicial decision and was of a much shorter time period than allowed under the statute. Look for an alteration of this provision.
Another objectionable provision of the Patriot Act that Kerr mentioned is Sec. 215—the so-called “library provisions.” Kerr stated that there is DOJ acknowledgment that the provision was terribly written. But on the other hand, the provision did not serve as the monstrosity proclaimed by opponents. Governments run public libraries, and one has to ask whether there is any expectation of privacy concerning the books one checks out at public libraries.
There is far less attention being paid to the renewal of the Patriot Act, according to Kerr. He attributed this, in large measure, to the fact that there is far less of a wide-ranging disagreement over what should be in the law. In fact, much of the Patriot Act was taken from pre-existing reform proposals which had a general consensus of support.
All in all, it was one worthwhile talk by one sharp legal scholar. It will be interesting to listen to the public debate as the Patriot Act renewal process goes forward.
(Downtown Seattle, WA)