The Games Ashcroft Plays

Subject: The Patriot Act and gay people

I believe if you’re queer, it is a no brainer that you’d be against the USA Patriot Act. But I’ve argued with two friends––and they are not Republicans!— about the Patriot Act. It expires next year and John Ashcroft would like to install it forever. Gay people should be more worried about it since much of it is about the government taking away privacy. I can’t convince these two friends that it is something they should worry about. They just say, oh we have to fight terrorists. They don’t seem to be educated about what it does. Can you help?

Re: The Patriot Act and gay people

There’s no question that John Ashcroft, a man who has covered up naked statues in the halls of the Justice Department, is hell-bent on taking control of your body (and your bedroom activities) to make sure you’re not doing anything he deems morally wrong. Just last week, in a story that went unnoticed by most of the media, the Justice Department was thwarted––temporarily––by a federal court when Ashcroft subpoenaed the medical records of 40 patients who received so-called partial-birth abortions at Northwestern Memorial Hospital in Chicago.

“The ruling is the first in a series of subpoenas by the U.S. Justice Department seeking the medical records of patients from seven physicians and at least five hospitals,” Crain’s Chicago Business reported. “While the Justice Department has said it is not seeking information that would identify the patients, that did not persuade [U.S. Chief District Judge Charles] Kocoras… A [Justice Department] spokeswoman said, ‘We are reviewing the ruling in light of our commitment to defending the law banning partial-birth abortions.’”

So, this is the America we’re living in, where the government is using whatever tools it has to take away your privacy, including the claim that it is fighting a war against terrorism. The USA Patriot Act––and the Patriot Act II, which the Bush administration wants passed when the Patriot Act expires in 2005–– is a danger to all Americans’ civil liberties. But, yes, any minority that has a history that has included government surveillance should be triply concerned. And there are several other so-called “counter-terrorism” initiatives from the Bush administration that should also be alarming to lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgendered (LGBT) people.

According to Matt Coles at the American Civil Liberties Union’s Lesbian and Gay Rights Project, under the Patriot Act the government can now monitor your e-mails and all of your online activity without first informing you about it, merely for suspecting you of terrorist activity. Even if the FBI then concludes that you are not a threat, the information is sitting in a file somewhere. It might include web sites you’ve visited that would clearly delineate your sexual orientation––such as porn sites or even this newspaper’s online edition––and there’s no guarantee that the information couldn’t be seen by other government agencies or even by anyone in the private sector.

In a country where the vast majority of states do not protect LGBT people from discrimination in housing and employment––and where there is no federal law which does that––any private citizen should be freaking that the government would have access to information about your sexual orientation.

That is just one issue among many regarding the Patriot Act that should cause concern for LGBT people. Another program the government is instituting this summer, under the auspices of the Department of Homeland Security’s Transportation Security Administration (TSA), is a color-coding scheme for air travelers, known as CAPS II. Under this plan, every passenger will be assigned a color––red, yellow or green––based on information that airlines must give to the government as well as on information the government will gather on its own.

You won’t know your color, nor have any means of repealing your color status. If you’re yellow, you’ll be put through more hell at the airport and if you’re red you’re not getting on a plane no matter what. Concerns about this system focus on how the government will decide who is yellow, who is red, and who is green, and if racial or ethnic traits––as indicated by surnames, for example––will be used.

The TSA claims it will use your credit report and shopping habits––as reported by credit agencies and companies that track consumers’ behavior––as well to make a determination that you are who you say you are, in addition to then matching you against police records.

Of course, there’s no reason why a terrorist couldn’t just steal someone’s identity and get on a plane easily, and there will certainly be many people wrongly colored red, based on mistaken information. So, it doesn’t seem as if this system will make flying any safer, while it could damage a lot of people.

In terms of privacy, again, if you shop at certain places your sexual orientation could easily be surmised. And we’re not assured about whether the government will use this information––or these new powers––for other reasons. Already we’ve seen the Patriot Act used for reasons other than fighting terrorism in a case of alleged organized crime in Las Vegas. It used to be that a judge would have to authorize surveillance; now Ashcroft decides on his own.

One really cool and effective way to educate your friends about the Patriot Act is to get yourself the Patriot Act Game, developed by Lisa Freeland, a Pittsburgh public defender, and Steffi Domike, a local artist in Pittsburgh. It’s a Monopoly-like board game that’s pretty hilarious, and also informative. The currency of the game is “freedom fries,” and the homeland security threat level rises during the course of the game.

“The goal of the game” as described on its web site, “is to get every player to Freedom Corner before the homeland security threat level reaches ‘Severe.’ The player who is secretly holding the ‘Snitch’ card turns everyone in to Attorney General John Ashcroft.”

You can get it for $25 at gotrights.net.

Have, um, fun!

Email Mike Signorile at Mike@Signorile.com.

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