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Anti-Patriot Act chorus grows

Congress should continue its effort to limit potential for abuse

America's justice system has long been the envy of the world, in large part because it is public. Some of that system no longer is, thanks to the Patriot Act.

The Bush administration wants to extend the act, parts of which are due to expire at the end of 2005. No extension is needed, nor should it be granted.

Meanwhile, members of Congress from both parties, including Republican Sens. Larry Craig of Idaho and John Sununu of New Hampshire and Rep. C.L. Butch Otter of Idaho, are sponsoring legislation to limit the Patriot Act's potential for abuse by requiring more judicial oversight. The legislation, the Security and Freedom Ensured (SAFE) Act, should be adopted.

Enacted in great haste after Sept. 11, 2001, before many in Congress had even read it, the Patriot Act greatly expanded the government's power to conduct secret searches, to collect private information about virtually anyone, to listen in on private conversations and to prevent anyone from revealing that these actions took place.

The unprecedented power of this act was starkly illustrated this year, when the American Civil Liberties Union filed a lawsuit challenging part of the Patriot Act on constitutional grounds. The secrecy provisions of the act itself meant that the lawsuit had to be filed under seal, because even identifying the plaintiff would reveal that the Secrecy Act had been invoked, thus violating the Secrecy Act.

The judge in the case finally agreed that the lawsuit could be publicized ' sort of. Now we know that John Doe, an Internet service provider, is the plaintiff. What we don't know is who he is or what government action he is challenging, because all portions of the complaint referring to that information have been blacked out by the court.

— We can speculate that the FBI demanded private information about the ISP's customers, but we don't know for sure. We also don't know when the case will be heard in court, or whether any of those court proceedings will be public.

If this sounds distinctly un-American to you, you're not alone. The chorus of opposition to the Patriot Act is growing, and it isn't limited to the left side of the political spectrum. Conservatives, Libertarians and high-ranking military officers have added their voices.

So have many local governments across the country ' including the cities of Ashland and Talent ' by adopting resolutions opposing the act. Local opponents of the act plan to ask the Jackson County Board of Commissioners to join the list. The commissioners should do so.

It's a symbolic gesture, but a meaningful one.

Snakes alive

This is the time of year when it's a good idea to pay attention to where you're walking in the woods. The reason is that the warm weather that comes with the onset of summer brings with it that ubiquitous resident of the western states ' the rattlesnake.

The rattler comes to mind because of an incident this week in which a 5-year-old Sisters boy was bitten by a rattler he mistook for a stick.

The boy spent a day in the hospital, and he's expected to be fine. But the outcome could have been tragic.

Adults and children alike need to be vigilant for rattlesnakes, which are common in Southern Oregon. Snakebites are not rare occurrences.