The USA PATRIOT Act has sparked intense public debate, with proponents claiming that the Act is a necessarily hard-minded response to a national crisis, while opponents see unwarranted, even opportunistic, expansion of state power. Perhaps no provision of the Act has generated more controversy than §215, which authorizes the FBI to seek a court order compelling the production of “any tangible things” relevant to certain counterintelligence and counterterrorism investigations. Like many other provisions of the USA PATRIOT Act, §215 will expire on December 31, 2005, unless reauthorized by Congress. The controversy, therefore, is likely to intensify over the coming months.
In two cases decided on June 28, 2004, the Supreme Court emphatically upheld the rule of law and the right of those being detained as part of the war on terrorism to have access to the courts. In Rasul v. Bush, the Court held that those being detained in Guantánamo Bay, Cuba are entitled to have a habeas corpus petition heard in federal court. In Hamdi v. Rumsfeld, the Justices declared, by an 8-to-1 margin, that an American citizen apprehended in a foreign country and held as an enemy combatant must be accorded due process, including a meaningful factual hearing on his status.
Breakthrough science can lead both to great good and to great evil. The September 11, 2001, terrorist attacks on the World Trade Center and the Pentagon and the anthrax letter attacks that followed highlight the fact that our enemies may use our own advanced science and technology against us. When the dissemination of scientific information might jeopardize national security, the federal government’s primary response has always been to try to control the spread of that information. In a variety of ways, the government has long restricted public access to scientific information in the government’s possession. Since September 11, the government has further tightened access to its own information, withholding from public view not just classified data but also so-called “sensitive” information, the release of which it says could pose a danger to national security.