Ashcroft denounces Patriot Act "hysteria"
In a speech Monday to an American Restaurant Association conference, Ashcroft said people are being wrongly led to believe that libraries have been "surrounded by the FBI," with agents "dressed in raincoats, dark suits and sunglasses. They stop everyone and interrogate everyone like Joe Friday.
"Now, you may have thought with all this hysteria and hyperbole, something had to be wrong," Ashcroft said. "Do we at the Justice Department really care what you are reading? No." [AP as reported in Salon]
Basically, this is John Ashcroft saying, "trust us, we're neither able or willing to track what everyone reads." This is meant to be comforting, I suppose. That if you're a normal law-abiding citizen, you don't have anything to worry about. But the devil is in the details. I bet that in Ashcroft's book, Muslims aren't normal Americans, neither are recent immigrants (especially from the Middle East), nor peace activists or other left-wing activists. So already the scope of who may be spied upon is greater than it appeared from Ashcroft's words.
It's true that your average suburban Republican-voting church-attending family of 2.4 probably doesn't have a thing to worry about - yet. Civil liberties are first eroded on the fringes, not in the middle. It's easier that way, because it's someone else's problem. But that doesn't mean that it's going to stop there. What about political opponents?
John Ashcroft, if you really want to reassure people, give us the numbers of how often you use these expanded police powers in libraries. Make it so that there's real judicial oversight based on a standard of at least probable cause. Ensure that there's accountability when these powers are abused. Or if libraries are really so unimportant in the War Against Terror, and these powers so insignificant, then drop them altogether!