More on the Patriot Act

Orin Kerr at Volokh disputes my one-liner on the Patriot Act (reprinted here).

The USA Patriot Act has so far been used to fine PayPal $10 million dollars in an effort to crack down on internet gambling, it’s been used to intimidate a New York artist’s collective, and most recently to shut down a Stargate fan site.

I invite readers to read Kerr and follow up on the links I provided. Kerr’s defense is, not suprisingly, one crafted by a lawyer. It consists of the following. Point 1 is accepted as correct. On point 2, Kerr concedes that the artists were intimidated and that the Patriot Act was involved but he says we shouldn’t blame the Patriot Act as other laws could just as easily have been used. Oh, now I feel better. On Point 3, Kerr agrees that the Patriot Act was used to gather information that was used to shut down the web site but thinks it unfair to say the Patriot Act shut the site down. Ok, I give him this one. I should have written the Patriot Act was used to help shut down a Stargate fan site.

The lawyer’s vice is to miss the forest for trees. The point is that laws passed for one purpose are often used for other purposes not originally intended (RICO, anyone?). (Some of them may even be legitimate, I’m not claiming, for example, that the Stargate fan site was legal). In this case, the Patriot Act and the general increased willingness to defer to law enforcement have not to my knowledge led to many arrests of terrorists but have been used for all manner of other purposes.