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Property owners concerned about USA-PATRIOT

By Steve Lilienthal
web posted December 22, 2003

While talking to Dorothy Bartholomew lasy week, she mentioned that she would see Senator Craig Thomas that afternoon.

She said, "I intend to ask him why his name isn't on any bills" that would rewrite the USA-PATRIOT Act.

Dorothy Bartholomew is one of the growing number of activists in causes that the news media tends to label as conservative who are concerned about the PATRIOT Act and the potential for its powers to be used -- not against terrorists -- but against American citizens.

She is President of Wyoming People for the USA, a property rights organization with approximately 500 members, and Secretary of People for Wyoming, a group with a similar mission.

In Dorothy's mind, our Constitutional liberties, including property rights are the very foundation of American freedom. Unfortunately, our freedoms have been diminished over time by the regulations and laws emanating from
Washington

Indeed, she says, "I worry when Congress is in session" given that the reach of the Federal Government is almost sure to be expanded.

Wyoming People for the USA tussled with Secretary of the Interior Bruce Babbitt during the end of the Clinton Administration over the Jack Morrow Hills (also known as the Red Desert). Wyoming People for the USA want the land and its minerals kept free for use that benefits the citizenry; selfish environmental interests want the land and its minerals locked up, unavailable for the benefit of society.

"We went to the airport to protest his visit," she recalled about a Babbitt visit to the state when the controversy was just coming to a boil.

Bartholomew's knowledge that the last has not been heard over what will happen to the Jack Morrow Hills leads her to worry about the PATRIOT Act, particularly its expansive definition of domestic terrorism in which any violation of federal or state criminal laws -- including misdemeanors -- can be interpreted as domestic terrorism. She is also concerned about the Section 215 record searches in which the third party holding the records cannot notify the people whose names and personal information have been provided to the Federal Government.

"It may not be this Administration, but what if it's done by the next," she says about the use of its powers to crack down on aggressive advocacy groups. "It could happen to any organization that's vocal and stands up on any issue."

What worries Mrs. Bartholomew is that too many people are unquestioning about the powers of the PATRIOT Act. Too many people are unwilling to delve deeper than the sound bite or the headline. Because she lives in Wyoming, a state as strongly conservative as it is Republican, there is a feeling among many of her fellow citizens that because it was put on the books by a Republican administration that it must be a good law.

Mrs. Bartholomew is no fan of the PATRIOT Act; not because she is unpatriotic but because she believes laws that are rushed through Congress in the heat of the moment are well thought out or even needed.

This realpolitick view was on exhibit recently when the Fremont County Board of Commissioners considered a resolution to repeal the PATRIOT Act. The Commissioners decided that they could not support such a measure. But they decided they could endorse one that called for revisions of the Act.

"We'll take what we can get," agreed Mrs. Bartholomew.

The lesson being learned in Wyoming can also be applied to the national level.

Many activists want the PATRIOT Act to be ripped up, which appears to be politically unrealistic given the wishes of Congress and the Administration. But that is no reason not for committed political activists to push for
prudent reform measures.

The Security and Freedom Enhanced Act (SAFE Act) sponsored by Senators Larry Craig (R-ID), John Sununu (R-NH), Mike Crapo (R-NH), Jeff Bingaman (D-NM), Ron Wyden (D-OR), Russell Feingold (D-WI) and Richard Durbin (D-IL) is one such measure. (U.S. Rep. C.L. "Butch" Otter, Republican of Idaho, is the sponsor of a companion bill in the House.) The SAFE Act ensures greater accountability and oversight of the PATRIOT powers to make sure federal law enforcement will not overstep its bounds while guaranteeing that prosecutors and agents will have the tools they need to take on terrorists.

Dorothy Bartholomew continues in her effort to promote property rights and to speak up for reform of the PATRIOT Act.

"Most people that I talk to concerning the 'Act'," she says, "are afraid to speak up about it. They don't want to get 'on someone's list.' It's a pretty sad state of affairs when someone is afraid to speak out."

This reluctance of many Americans to speak out in defense of their freedoms makes Dorothy wonder about the future of this country and its citizens.

Dorothy wonders: Will my grandchildren enjoy the same freedoms that I do?

She knows the answer: Not unless folks start speaking up.

Therefore, Dorothy Bartholomew is enlisted in the fight to make sure the terrorists do not win their greatest victory by forcing us to relinquish our freedom.

Steve Lilienthal is Director of the Center for Privacy and Technology Policy.

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