Like taking diapers off a baby
Posted by aogMonday, 11 July 2005 at 18:29 TrackBack Ping URL

Sadly, I have to ding Best of the Web today and defend the New York Times.

Today the Times weighs in against expanding the USA Patriot Act to allow terror investigators to use a procedure called an administrative subpoena to gather information. We gather that conservatives by and large support this proposal while liberals oppose it, which itself would be evidence that Rove was right. But our jaw dropped when we read this paragraph:

The bill’s defenders note that administrative subpoenas are already allowed in other kinds of investigations. But these are generally in highly regulated areas, like Medicaid billing. The administrative subpoena power in the new bill would apply to anything the F.B.I. deemed related to alleged foreign intelligence or terrorism, and could, in practice, give the F.B.I. access to almost any private records it wanted.

So in the Times’ view, it’s worth making some compromises on civil liberties when something really weighty is at stake, like Medicaid funding. But terrorism just doesn’t rise to that level of importance.

That is (IMHO) a willful misreading of the Time’s point, which is that currently it is Congress who decides in what areas the FBI can use subpoenas, whereas with the proposed law it is the FBI who decides that. It’s not a matter of Medicaid vs. terrorism, but in what body the authority to make the determination lies. As someone who objects to most of the regulatory state on this very basis, that Congress should not be delegating de facto law making to federal agencies, I must side with the Times. Personally, I’d say that I’d consider discussing the FBI getting this capability when it fixes its internal information systems to be able to handle the data. It’s just a bad idea to hand new powers to agencies that have demonstrated the lack of ability to handle its current ones.