This is the most remarkable thing, to me, about the PATRIOT Act. When the PATRIOT Act was first enacted, it was obviously in the immediate aftermath of 9/11. And even with the sort of fear and hysteria that was prevailing in the country at the time, the PATRIOT Act was considered remarkably controversial, even for that time period. When it was enacted, there were all kinds of editorials warning about the surveillance capabilities that we were investing in in the United States that were unique, warnings and concerns about how pervasive the surveillance would become, about how it could be conducted without oversight. It was really a very controversial provision. The PATRIOT Act had become sort of the symbol of Bush-Cheney radicalism and the way in which the fears of 9/11 and terrorism were being exploited.
Fast-forward 10 years later, we haven’t had another single successful terrorist attack on American soil, and yet now the PATRIOT Act is completely uncontroversial. It gets renewed every four years. Even in the wake of 9/11, the warnings and concerns of it were sufficiently strong that they put in sunset provisions, saying we don’t want this to be a permanent state of affairs, it has to be renewed every four years. It now gets renewed with no debate. The votes are something like 89 to 10 in the Senate to renew it, with no reforms, even though there’s mass of evidence of systemic abuse. The Democrats and Republicans both renew it when they control Congress. Obama’s administration demanded its renewal without any—without any modifications. And it just goes to show how quickly what’s conceived as radical and what is radical becomes so normalized and a permanent fixture in our political landscape. That, I think, is the really disturbing lesson about the PATRIOT Act.