Patriot Act Reauthorization Uncertain:
The Patriot Act reauthorization has passed the House, but is now encountering serious trouble in the Senate. According to the latest report, it may be dead in the water, and Congress may let the expiring provisions lapse on December 31st.

  For those of us who think of the Patriot Act as actual legislation rather than a symbol of the Bush Administration, this is rather puzzling stuff. The dirty little secret about the Patriot Act is that only about 3% of the Act is controversial, and only about a third of that 3% is going to expire on December 31st. Further, much of the reauthorization actually puts new limits on a number of the controversial non-sunsetting provisions, and some of the sunsetting provisions increased privacy protections. As a result, it's not immediately obvious to me whether we'll have greater civil liberties on January 1, 2006 if the Patriot Act is reauthorized or if it is allowed to expire. (To be fair, though, I'd have to run through the effect of every expiring section and all of the reauthorization language to check this - maybe I would feel differently if I did.)

  Of course, four years after the Patriot Act was passed, a meeting of everyone who thinks of the Patriot Act as actual legislation could be held in my kitchen. For most people, the Patriot Act is a symbol of the Bush Administration and the War on Terror. From that perspective, the current debate makes a lot of sense: for opponents, fighting the Patriot Act reauthorization continues the valiant struggle against the evil forces of Big Brother and the out-of-control Bush Administration; for supporters, supporting the Act helps beat Al Qaeda, makes the homeland safe from attack, and helps win the global struggle against terrorism. If neither of these visions bears a particular resemblance to reality, well, hey, no one ever said democracy was perfect. As Boon famously advised Otter, "Forget it, he's rolling."

  What will happen in the end? My hope is that the Bush Administration will agree to renegotiate some of the more controversial provisions, addressing some of the opponents' concerns and reaching a compromise that reflects the current political landscape. My sense is that there is still lots of ready room for compromise; for example, the restrictions on sneak-and-peek warrants in the reauthorization are really pretty weak. They can (and should) be strengthened, and it seems unlikely that strengthening them would impact any terrorism cases.

  Anyway, it'll be interesting to see what happens. Throw some popcorn in the microwave, sit back, and enjoy the show.