The American Civil Liberties Union raised objections yesterday to a little-noticed provision of the latest version of the USA Patriot Act bill, arguing that it would give the Secret Service wider latitude to charge protesters accused of disrupting major events including political conventions and the Olympics.
The Secret Service is authorized to charge suspects with breaching security or disruptive behavior at National Special Security Events, but only if the president or another person under the protection of the service is in attendance, according to a legislative summary.
The bill adds language prohibiting people from "willfully and knowingly" entering a restricted area "where the President or other person protected by the Secret Service is or will be temporarily visiting." The measure also applies to security breaches "in conjunction with an event designated as a special event of national significance," according to the bill.
Penalties for such violations would increase from six months to a year in prison.
To the ACLU, the changes would open the door to even tighter security restrictions at major events and would subject protesters to harassment from federal law enforcement officers. The Bush administration has come under sharp criticism from liberal and civil-liberties groups for disputed arrests and security measures at presidential events.
"It's cementing the trend of the Secret Service basically acting to arrest or harass or control dissenters, and now not just at presidential events but at other events," said Timothy H. Edgar, the ACLU's national security counsel.
The SS (Secret Service, but apt initials, I think), the FBI, and other agencies arrested protesters during Vietnam, the last Republican convention, and other places, but they (mostly) always had to let them go unless they were actually breaking a law. Like charging them with 'littering' after a cop knocked a protest sign out of their hands by hitting them in the head with a nightstick.
It looks like that pesky bar against arrest and imprisonment of folks saying stuff in disagreement with the administration, you know, the First Amendment to that "piece of paper", the Constitution, is no longer a drawback.
This is why there's a Second Amendment, folks, to protect the other ones. They'll likely address that one in future, but until then keep 'em clean and oiled and your powder dry, and let's hope it doesn't come to that.