A requiem for the fourth (amendment, that is)

Mike Friedman mikedf at amnh.org
Thu Nov 21 11:59:05 MST 2002


November 21, 2002

A Secret Burial for the Bill of Rights
4th Amendment R.I.P


The 4th Amendment, an unwavering champion of our right to privacy,
died on 18 November 2002. The amendment, adopted by the convention of
states on 17 September 1787, was 215. The 4th tirelessly fought to
guarantee that "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."

The 4th has had health issues over the years, struggling with those
that have tried to weaken it. Most recently, it received a
life-threatening blow from the USA Patriot Act. But lower courts,
concerned about possible civil liberties abuses, tended to the injury
by trying to curtail some of the Act's power.

On the 18th, the ruling of the lower courts was overridden by an all
but unknown court: the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court of
Review, which is the appeals arm of the Foreign Intelligence
Surveillance Court (FISC). The appeals panel includes three men that
were appointed by Chief Justice William Rehnquist. The courts meet in
secret at the Justice Department. Initially, the FISC ruled the
surveillance privileges sought by John Ashcroft after 9.11 "were not
reasonably designed" to ensure the privacy rights of citizens. It
cited many previous abuses of surveillance laws. But government
lawyers sought a review. And the appeals panel determined the
authorized surveillance measures of the Foreign Intelligence
Surveillance Act (FISA) are "reasonable."

And so, with the courage characteristic of its life, the 4th
succumbed to this ruling at its home in the pages of the
Constitution, surrounded by friends and loved ones.

Ann Beeson of the Civil Liberties Union, a long-time supporter of the
4th stated: "As of today, the attorney general can suspend the
ordinary requirements of the 4th Amendment in order to listen to
phone calls, read e-mails, and conduct secret searches of Americans'
homes and offices." Those that are being monitored won't know it. So,
in essence, there is no mechanism in place to challenge the
surveillance. And currently, only the government can do that.

John Ashcroft was reportedly seen shortly after the decision dancing
around in circles on tiptoe, hugging himself while singing, "hot
damn, hot damn, hot damn." On record, he called the ruling
revolutionary and said, "the decision allows the Department of
Justice to free immediately our agents and prosecutors in the field
to work more closely and cooperatively in achieving our core
mission...the mission of preventing terrorists attacks." As it
stands, the definition of a "terrorist" is broad enough to include
almost anybody.

Even if the ruling had gone the other way, the 4th would've surely
lost its life at the hands of the likes of John Poindexter and his
new post-9.11 brainchild: the Information Awareness Office (IAO), a
new pentagon operation with a $200 million budget that Poindexter
will head. Poindexter, retired rear admiral, and former national
security advisor is most remembered for another of his brainchildren:
funding anti-Sandinista rebels in Nicaragua by selling arms to Iran.
He was released from the jail sentence he was serving for lying to
Congress about this because it was decided his evidence warranted
congressional immunity.

The premiere program of the IAO will be called the Total Information
Awareness Program. This program, if it so desires, can develop a
dossier on every single American, unearthing and tracking nearly
everything a person does with little or no need to explain itself and
its motivations. This unchecked, broad-sweeping power is something
our dearly departed amendment would be greatly dismayed to see.

The 4th was loved and respected by the citizens throughout the US
that it protected. "How will I ever feel comfortable exercising my
1st amendment rights without the protections of the 4th?" asked one
mourner, crying into her copy of the Constitution. Fearing
repercussions, she refused to state her name. "I always knew I could
count on it," she continued. "It was always there for me." Another
sobbed, "El Cuarto - that's what we used to call it- was such a big
part of my life. It's what made our country different from those
police states. What are we going to do now?"

What indeed. The 4th Amendment will be sorely missed.

It is survived by 26 sibling amendments. The besieged 1st, 6th, and
14th amendments are also fighting for their lives. And the 2nd
continues to be held hostage by special interests.

The surviving amendments ask that in lieu of flowers, you send your
congressperson(s) your heartfelt sentiments.

Carol Norris is psychotherapist and freelance writer. She can be
contactedat writing4justice at planet-save.com

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