The Patriot Act and Political Posturing

The Patriot Act, the most misnamed legislation in history, was used last year to levy a $10 million fine on Paypal, owned by Ebay, for allowing their clients to use the service to send funds to online gambling sites. What does this have to do with stopping terrorism? Not a goddamn thing. But it's yet another reason why this law should be repealed, and why we should throw out of office everyone who voted for it - which would be virtually everyone in Congress. In the Senate, only one Senator, Russ Feingold of Wisconsin, voted against the bill. And yes, that includes John Kerry, who is now campaigning against the Patriot Act in his effort to beat Bush in November.

In fact, contrary to the civil libertarian pose he is trying to strike, Kerry has an abysmal record on constitutional rights. Not as bad as Bush's record, but that's like saying that he's a slightly better actor than Keanu Reeves. In the 1990s, Kerry was a defender of the Clinton administration's attempts to ban encryption software (the maker of PGP, the most popular personal encryption tool for computer users, was actually in prison for a while). Clinton was, in my view, the worst president on civil liberties since Nixon - until the current administration, of course, which is off the scale - and Kerry was a cheerleader for Clinton's policies. Now, Bush isn't going to say that in the campaign because he's busy portraying Kerry as soft on crime and soft on terrorism, and because if he criticizes Kerry as anti-civil liberties, he makes himself look even worse by comparison.

All of this makes me all the more amazed that people take the political rhetoric of campaigns seriously. After the Democratic convention is over, Kerry will probably jump 10 points in the polls based solely on the pomp and pagentry and empty words being spoken. And then after the Republican convention in a few weeks, Bush will take a similar jump. It's called the post-convention bounce and it happens every time. That alone should scare the hell out of you. That means that a sizable percentage of the voters have views that are so shallow that they can be swayed, and then swayed back, by what amounts to a 4 day informercial. And most of the rest of the voters are even worse because they actually believe the rhetoric being shoveled out by one party or another. They actually get inspired by empty platitudes like "it's time to get America moving again" and "we must invest in our future", as if those phrases actually mean something. Yes, it appears, people really are that stupid and easily led.


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Ed, you might want to check out this post on the facts surrounding the PayPal case (and two others).

I actually don't think that the provision of PATRIOT that was used is all that bad. The problem isn't mostly PATRIOT; it's mostly Ashcroft. The guy wouldn't now prosecutorial discretion if it was mixed with Crisco and basted all over his body. (Ewwww.)

(BTW, this comments page won't remember my personal info.)

I did see that post, that's how I found the link. And that post supports the claim, it was the only one of the three that Kerr said was legitimate. A provision that says businesses can't complete monetary transactions that they know are to be used for illegal purposes is quite reasonable. Using that provision to prosecute a company to prevent people from playing poker online is not.

I know it won't remember your info, it won't remember mine either. But I don't know how to fix it and have never taken the time to figure it out. Sorry!

I guess I don't see the problem. Paypal was supporting illegal activity and was fined for it.

From your writings here, I understand that you don't think gambling should be illegal, but it is. I have no problem with enforcing the laws that exist, and actually I do have a problem with not enforcing them.

Bad laws should be changed, not simply unenforced.

By Aaron Pohle (not verified) on 28 Jul 2004 #permalink

From your writings here, I understand that you don't think gambling should be illegal, but it is. I have no problem with enforcing the laws that exist, and actually I do have a problem with not enforcing them.

One of the problems here is that online gambling is not explicitly illegal in the US. No law has been passed to make it so, and the old anti-gambling laws only applied to those who ran illegal games within a given state. Since almost all online gambling operations are located overseas, those statutes do not apply. The Justice Department has interpreted the Wire Act as forbidding online gambling, but the relevant subsection of that act was aimed at sports betting, not at poker or table games. A Federal appeals court has overturned one conviction precisely for that reason. But the DOJ still insists that the Wire Act applies and they've started prosecuting not only banking services that allow transactions to online gambling operations, as in the Paypal case, but they've even started confiscating money from companies that accept money from online gambling operations. They seized over $3 million from the Discovery Channel network because Party Poker, an online poker site, sponsored a World Poker Tour tournament on the Travel Channel. And now, not satisfied with enforcing non-applicable laws directly, they're using the Patriot Act, which they keep telling us is only necessary to fight terrorism, to harass companies in an effort to stop people from playing poker online. I see this as a major problem.

I notice how often your post, in evaluating Kerry on civil liberties, ends up at "not as bad as Bush" or words to that effect. I am afraid, Ed, in these parlous times, that "not as bad as Bush" is going to be good enough for me come November.

By flatlander100 (not verified) on 28 Jul 2004 #permalink


I think you're tossing out the baby with the bathwater. Notwithstanding the facts of the Paypal case, or the merits of laws against gambling, the Patriot Act (truly stupid name), is an important set of adjustments to laws that are being used effectively in the fight against terrorism and in the fight against "regular" crime.

Could we fine-tune it? Sure. Let's take the benefit of the past several years' experience and refine its refinements.

Is it abusive to civil liberties? Not to my mind. The anti-Patriot Act hype is way over-the-top. I think people vent their anger at Ashcroft on the Patriot Act. They're not the same thing.

I'm all in favor of dumping the former.


I recognize that this provision can be a useful tool to stop money laundering. It's the fact that a provision intended to stop the ability of terrorists to fund their operations is now being used to harass people who haven't done anything wrong that is outrageous to me. We keep hearing from Ashcroft how vital this is to stopping terrorism, then he's committing resources to using it to harass legitimate businesses with. Maybe it's time to call his bluff.


I don't even care so much about that provision. In my experience, the money laundering adjustments are very helpful to the war on terror, but there are other provisions I care more about. (Its adjustments to FISA; adjustments to ECPA; and adjustments to RFPA and FCRA.)

Throwing out the Patriot Act as a whole would do more harm than good. I am firmly believe that. I am not blind to the potential (maybe actual) abuses, but I urge some process to prevent those other than throwing out the whole thing.

As for the ridiculous polling effects of the DNC and RNC: I agree. But the whole process is silly, so there's no reason for the results not to be. I'm in Boston. The whole thing is absurd - a weeklong party for the rich and powerful at the expense of everybody else.

Regarding Kerry being almost as bad as Bush- well, maybe he is, I don't know, I'm in the anything-but-Bush camp anyway. My problem is I can't vote in your election down there, cause I'm a canuck. Those of us on the rest of the planet do have a pretty big interest in this thing though, because whether we like it or not (we don't) the outcome of american elections can greatly affect our lives. Even those of us in the countries Bush probably won't invade will be affected if Bush destroys your economy or does any number of the other nasty things he seems bent on doing. So please, I beg you, swallow your bile and vote for Kerry, because the advantage of the lesser of two evils is that it isn't the Greater of two evils.


I wonder if you could explain the allure of gambling, in genenral. I have no religious, moral qualms against it, but I just don't understand the attraction (or is it a psychological compulsion?). I guess I can see that poker has some aspects of skill involved, blunting the razor-sharp edge of absurd, irrational chance; otherwise, the whole staking of money on hopes of somehow outfoxing blind chance (being lucky) strikes me as a pasttime more fitting for the asylum recreation room (no personal insult intended -- just wondering out loud).