The Patriot Act and Minnesota: 10 years later


President G. W. Bush signed the Patriot Act 10 years ago today.  As many of us remember it passed with lightning speed with no public hearings.  The legislation being created in secret. Soon as the bill became public, the legislation was criticized from conservative and liberal groups.  There’s been discussion of it ever since.  

But what many Minnesotans may not know about or remember is that there were attempts as with other state legislatures to have a state version of the Patriot Act.  This was done with various initiatives proposed by the Ventura Administration and legislators.

Suggestions and schemes ran from making secret public data that had been public for decades, easier access to our e-mails and phone calls,  to having a broad definition of terrorism.  This was just the tip of the iceberg of the many proposals.

I knew what was coming based upon press reports and speaking with legislators.  Many other groups and individuals also were also aware that there would be lot of action in the 2002 Legislative session.  What happened?

A broad coalition was formed from left to right, librarians to lawyers, citizens to professional lobbyists who monitored and engaged the legislators and the then Governor as the bills moved through the process.

The movement, progress, and end results of the “broad” Minnesota Patriot Act type bills was quite different than what happened in DC.  There were public hearings, legislators from different perspectives asking tough questions, and very important comments from the public.  I still remember a direct tit for tat discussion about the definition of terrorism between Representative Stanek and Peter Erlinder, Professor at William Mitchell Law School.

At the end of session as it sometimes happens with legislation, all the Patriot Act-Terrorism type related bills were put in one big Omnibus bill, and further complicating the situation there was a conference committee.

Myself and others monitored and engaged the conference committee as they met day and night.  I still remember being there at 3:00am in the morning when the agreement happened.  Many of the provisions I had concerns and lobbied about were either neutered, taken out, or balanced.

Minnesotans owe a big thank you to the legislators who asked the tough questions, reflected, and said we need a balanced bill when legislation may, can, and will compromise our civil liberties, privacy, and self autonomy.

But during the past ten years through today there are continuous proposals before our legislature emanating from the tragedy of 9/11 and from the same fertile ground where the Patriot Act was born.  Some of those I have mentioned previously in my posts, others will come in the future.  We, the public, still need to be engaged at the Legislature as we were in 2002, and ever vigilant.

A quote from Louis Brandeis, serves as one of many, a guide for me when there’s legislation proposed that has impact on our civil liberties, privacy, and self autonomy.  It is the following:

“The greatest dangers to liberty lurk in the insidious encroachment by men of zeal, well meaning but without understanding.” -Louis D. Brandeis