PATRIOT Act Update: After a successful call-in day, the focus shifts to Congress

Thousands of patriots fought their way through jammed White House phone lines on April 5 to call on President Obama to keep his campaign promises by vetoing any PATRIOT Act extension unless it includes substantial new protections. The timing was perfect, just a day after he launched his re-election campaign. Now, the focus shifts to the House and the Senate.

EFF logo“All day long, we received reports of phone lines being flooded with calls, so that people couldn’t even get through,” says EFF’s activism director Rainey Reitman, “In the coming weeks, we’ll look to harness this energy into future actions in the fight against overbroad government surveillance.”

The two-week Congressional recess from April 18-May 1 is a great opportunity for “in-district” meetings with Representatives. Several clauses of the PATRIOT Act will sunset unless Congress extends them by May 27. Most Democrats support reform, and more and more Republicans are coming out against overbroad legislation, so it’s a great opportunity — but on the other hand, there’s also the risk of a permanent extension. So now’s the time for action.

Executive Director Shahid Buttar of Bill of Rights Defense Committee explains, “With the Obama White House pushing a Bush administration policy, the next step is for Congress to check & balance documented executive abuses under the PATRIOT Act — and for We the People to press our congressional representatives to do their jobs.”

BORDC has some great suggestions about how to set up and prepare for a meeting — including “you don’t have to go it alone”, “outline your interests”, and “follow up”. They’ve also got a couple of optional preparation phone calls scheduled for next week. sign up on their web site if you’d like to be notified. ACLU’s Congressional testimony hearing has some great talking points, and so do Downsize DC, EFF, and BORDC.

Once Congress gets back, things are likely to move very quickly. But as Pew Research reported in February, the PATRIOT Act galvanizes bloggers and people on social networks across the political spectrum. Combining that with the in-person meetings over the recess, and there’s a great chance to build on the multipartisan campaign’s successes so far. As Sue Udry of Defending Dissent points out, “”Members of Congress on both sides of the aisle understand the country won’t stand for another rubber stamp extension of PATRIOT. Our job is to be clear that minor reforms won’t cut it. We demand JUSTICE, not the PATRIOT Act.”

Here’s how you can help:

  • Start planning now to meet with your legislators when they’re back in your districts between April 18th and May 1. BORDC has some great suggestions.
  • Help get the word out! Share links and forward email action alerts. Write a letter to the editor. Talk about the PATRIOT Act with friends and family and your colleagues at work — ask what they think, tell them about your concerns, and tell them how they can get involved.
  • Check back for updates — for me, Twitter is the easiest way to stay informed; or sign up with any of the organizations involved to be on their mailing lists. Speaking of Twitter, we had a great discussion of this at #privchat on April 5, and will probably cover it again later this month. If you’re not on Twitter, here’s how you can get started.

The next six weeks are a crucial time for civil liberties in the US. So please, get involved!