- The United States Congress is on the verge of passing
a Republican sponsored bill that would eradicate the Fourth Amendment of
the United States Constitution. Article IV of the Bill of Rights states,
"The right of the people to be secure in their persons, houses, papers,
and effects, against unreasonable searches and seizures, shall not be violated,
and no Warrants shall issue, but upon probable cause, supported by Oath
or affirmation, and particularly describing the place to be searched, and
the persons or things to be seized."
- In addition, this bill extends its authority to impede
upon the First Amendment Right of "Freedom of Speech."
- The Methamphetamine Anti-Proliferation Act, "To
provide for the punishment of methamphetamine laboratory operators, provide
additional resources to combat methamphetamine production, trafficking,
and abuse in the United States, and for other purposes," has already
passed through the Senate and was being deliberated by the House of Representatives
as of press time.
- In effect, what the provision does is empower the Federal
Government, State Government and local law enforcement agencies, to enter
private property - homes, businesses, automobiles, etc. for any "criminal
searches" without a warrant and without any legal obligation to inform
the private property owner that a search and seizure was conducted until
months later, if at all. If the bill becomes law, then it would grant the
Federal Government power to obtain "intangible" evidence -- hard-drive
data, photographs or copies made of any documents or family or personal
belongings, diaries, etc. - without ever having to inform the owner that
their property was searched. If physical evidence was taken then the government
could wait up to 90 days later, before having to notify the owner that
a secret search of their property ever occurred.
- David Kopel, director of research for the Independence
Institute, a Colorado think tank focusing on Constitutional issues, said
the bill was aimed especially at computer hard drives, which could be copied
in an owner' absence and examined without the owner's knowledge.
- The Senate's version of the bill (S. 486) was sponsored
by Senator John Ashcroft (R-Missouri). The House Bill (H.R. 2987) was sponsored
by U.S. Representative Chris Cannon (R-Utah).
- It's primary initiative is to increase criminal penalties
for the sale, production and distribution of methamphetamines, appropriate
funds to crack down on "meth labs" where the drug is processed,
and fund methamphetamine treatment programs. However, tucked away deep
inside the legal jargon of the bill are two provisions which go far beyond
the realm of methamphetamine anti-proliferation or even the war on drugs.
One measure pertains to police search and seizure, while the other attempts
to dictate Internet communication.
- Under present law, a property owner must be notified
immediately of any possession seized in a criminal search, but the "Notice
and Clarification" section of the methamphetamine bill (S. section
301, H.R. section 6) amends U.S. Code by stating, "Section 3103a of
title 18, United States Code, is amended by adding at the end the following
new sentence: `With respect to any issuance under this section or any other
provision of law (including section 3117 and any rule), any notice required,
or that may be required, to be given may be delayed pursuant to the standards,
terms, and conditions set forth in section 2705, unless otherwise expressly
provided by statute.'
- A source within the Senate Judiciary committee, speaking
on condition of anonymity, admitted that the language in the search and
seizure provision "slipped by everybody" in the Senate.
- "(Hatch and the Justice Department) buried it deep
in the bill, and nobody noticed until the thing had already passed."
- "The Secret Searches measure is so outrageous that
it would have no chance of being enacted as a bill on its own, when subjected
to public scrutiny and debate," Kopel asserted. "So instead,
the DOJ has nestled the Secret Search item deep inside a long bill dealing
- Jeanne Lapatto, spokesperson for the Senate Judiciary
Committee and its chairman, Senator Orrin Hatch (R-Utah), said she was
unaware of the specific provisions in question, but defended the goals
of the bill. "This is a bipartisan bill," Lapatto said. "During
hearings, no one had any problems with the overall goal of the bill, which
is curbing the horrible problem of methamphetamines."
- Another approach the bill takes to "curbing"
methamphetamine usage is by making it a crime to create a hypertext link
on the Internet to any site that "directly or indirectly advertises"
drug paraphernalia, or distributes information about the processing or
purchase of drugs (S. section 203, H.R. section 3). Under the provisions
of the act, an Internet service provider, who is notified by a district
attorney or representative of the Drug Enforcement Agency, that one of
their hosted sites is in violation, would be required to remove the site
within 48 hours or face federal criminal penalties.
- On top of that, another provision of the bill would make
it punishable by up to ten years in prison, "To teach or demonstrate.
or to distribute by any means of information pertaining to, in whole or
in part, the manufacture of a controlled substance."
- U.S. Representative Bob Barr (R-Georgia), member of the
House Judiciary Committee, is leading the fight against this bill in the
House. Barr asserts that the search and seizure provisions of the bill,
"Have nothing to do with methamphetamines," and he believes that
had the search and seizure provision been introduced as a separate bill,
its chances for passage, "Would be very, very problematic."
- "These are not minor changes," Barr added.
"These are substantive and far-reaching changes to the criminal law
on search and seizure. It's unconscionable that someone would try to sneak
these provisions into an unrelated bill."
- A spokesperson for the Justice Department, which supports
the provisions, declined to comment directly, but did release a recent
letter from Assistant Attorney General Robert Ruben to House Judiciary
Committee Chairman Henry Hyde (R-Illinois).
- In his letter, Ruben praised the bill for providing,
"Important and necessary tools for deterring the spread of methamphetamine
manufacturing and abuse in our nation."
- Speaking on behalf of House sponsor, Rep. Chris Cannon
(R-Utah), legislative director Chris MacKay said the no-notice provision
was necessary for, "Police to perform their job effectively."
- According to MacKay, the provision was designed to allow
police to search with minimum risk to their safety and without suspects
destroying evidence before they arrive, adding, "Anything we can do
to win the war on drugs is worth doing."
- Tribune Combined Report, using with permission, amongst
other sources, information compiled and written by Justin Torres of CNSNews.com
and David Kopel of the Independence Institute.
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