The Right Coast

March 10, 2006
The Patriot Act
By Mike Rappaport

Dave Kopel makes the powerful point that the Patriot Act in many places does not restrict its authority to terrorist cases, but allows it to be used for ordinary crimes. Unless I am missing something, this is an extremely important criticism. To my mind, it shows that the act intrudes on civil liberties more than it needs to for purposes of terrorism. Instead, it provides government officials with authority they seek for other reasons. That is a strong reason to vote against it.

Yet, that criticism may commit the nirvana fallacy (of unrealistically criticizing something because it is not ideal, when the ideal is not possible): Perhaps, just as ordinary government spending will usually involve some pork, even if it is otherwise efficient (that's the best case), so government authority will inevitably involve some "pork" for government bureaucrats. Thus, the existence of this pork is not necessarily a reason for voting against the Patiot Act if the Act overall is beneficial.

Still, I am not sure that the degree of pork in the Patriot Act is inevitable. Opposition to the Act that was focused on the pork might have eliminated it. Unfortunately, opponents seem to have been focused not only on the pork, but also on restricting the government's power against terrorists.

Update: More evidence of anti-terror bureaucrats expanding to other areas.