According to the results of an extensive FBI wiretap, Americans overwhelmingly support the Patriot Act and think the FBI should have even more power to listen in on their conversations, read their mail and follow their online interactions. The FBI plans to release the results of the wiretap, conducted on 1,200 Americans, to boost its campaign for expansion of the Patriot Act.
In conversations with friends, loved ones, 90% of Americans say they think FBI deserves more power
By Deanna Swift
WASHINGTON, DC—According to the results of an extensive FBI wiretap, Americans overwhelmingly support the Patriot Act, the law passed in the wake of September 11, 2001, that gave the FBI new surveillance powers, including permission to listen in on phone conversations. President Bush is currently pushing to expand the law.
The FBI, which plans to release the results of the wiretap this week, listened in on the conversations of approximately 1,200 Americans in order to determine whether or not they support the Patriot Act. An overwhelming majority—close to 90%, says an FBI spokesperson—indicated in conversations with friends, coworkers and loved ones that they back the law, and would like to see it expanded. People whose chats and phone calls seemed to reflect opposition to the law, or mentioned the ACLU, are now being investigated.
The FBI agents who monitored the conversations on cell phones and landlines were on the look out for any words that could conceivably indicate support for the Patriot Act. 'Patriot,' 'act,' 'homeland,' 'home,' 'land,' 'secret,' 'probing,' 'intelligence,' 'snoop,' 'wire' and 'tap' are just a few of the words that the agents were listening for.
"We were surprised at just how enthusiastic Americans are about the Patriot Act," said one source close to the wiretapping operation. “You hear all these complaints about civil liberties and spying but that’s not what we heard people talking about at all.”
We want more
In addition to enthusiasm for the Patriot Act, the FBI wiretap also turned up widespread support for further expanding the powers of the agency to peek into the lives of Americans in the interest of national security. According to the results of the wiretap, 73% of Americans believe that the FBI should have the authority to read the outside of mailed envelopes, a measure backed by President Bush.
The wiretap also revealed great enthusiasm for punishing Americans who criticize the Patriot Act, including holding them incommunicado for unlimited periods of time. According to the FBI, 82% of Americans believe that critics of the act "deserve whatever they get."
Before the passage of the Patriot Act, the FBI was greatly hampered in its ability to take the temperature of the American people by listening in on phone conversations. But the law, which President Bush is now pressing Congress to make permanent, allowed the FBI to wiretap phone users who are “proximate” to individuals under investigation to suspects in terror cases.
Earlier this year, American Idol judge Paula Abdul became the first celebrity to feel the sting of the FBI’s expanded power. Ms. Abdul, whose voice mail messages and phone conversations with one-time American Idol contestant Corey Clark were the subject of a roving wiretap, was the unintended victim of a sting operation intended to sniff out Jordanian terror suspect Buelah Abdul. The messages were recorded by federal agents under the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act.
What do you like about the Patriot Act? Talk back to Deanna Swift at email@example.com