Patriot Act helps government snag more in its web

October 28, 2003|by TIM ROWLAND

You have probably heard of the Patriot Act, the post-Sept. 11 law that basically gives the federal government license to read your e-mail, search your property, listen in on your conversations, view your bank statements, read over your medical files and access any records that may be kept about you at your church - all without your knowledge or consent, without a warrant, without probable cause and without judicial review. (The gumshoes have to "ask" a judge for permission, but the judge is prohibited by law from saying no.)

All the government has to do is say it's part of a terrorist or foreign affairs investigation. It does not have to offer any proof. You don't even have to be a suspect. If you are protesting anything - be it to save the spotted owl or ban abortion - you can be labeled part of a "domestic terrorist group" and have your life legally roughed up.


None of this bothers me, because frankly, I have bigger things to worry about, such as how to teach a young child to close the door when she leaves the house.

I don't spout off in private about anything I haven't already spouted off about in public, so there would be no point in bugging my home or office. And if the feds want to look around my house, it's fine with me, there's nothing there to see. The key's under the mat. Help yourself to the bananas.

Besides, aren't I right in thinking that the Patriot Act - not to put too fine a point on it - simply allows the government to go after the bad guys?

Well, apparently not, because last week I got caught in the Patriot web - sad, but this story is absolutely true:

I am working on a Very Exciting Project, which you will be hearing about ad nauseum in a couple of weeks. As part of this project, it was necessary to form a sole proprietorship and set up all the usual business-related appendages.

I already was in possession of a business credit card, which I received a couple of years ago when a salesman called up and asked me if I would like to be issued a card for my small business. Of course, I didn't have a small business, but when an opportunity such as this presents itself, I never can resist playing along, just to see how it will go. (After all, this chucklehead pitchman asked for it.)

I said my small business would love to have its own small business credit card, so he began to ask me a bunch of questions and I supplied a bunch of answers by - I am not terribly proud of this - making a bunch of stuff up.

Instantaneously my wife became a vice president of marketing, my stepdaughter found herself in the accounts-payable department and Jake Biscuit was named chief of security. As far as I am aware, Jake Biscuit remains the only dog in Western Maryland to have his own credit card. What stings is that his credit rating is better than mine.

Unfortunately, my brain froze at the most inopportune of times, when he asked the business' name. There were just too many possibilities, so instead of something clever like Gnome Depot (catering to small, imaginary people since 1985) all I could say was "Tim Rowland Inc."

We all got our terribly impressive-looking platinum business credit cards and I threw them in a drawer and didn't really think anything more about it until last week when I actually needed a business credit card. At the risk of the potential for awkwardness, I called the credit card company and asked if I could change the name on the card from Tim Rowland Inc. to High Peaks Publishing Co.

The lady said I needed a federal tax ID number. I said fine and called the IRS, which told me as a sole proprietor my federal tax ID number was my Social Security number. I said fine and called the credit card company back and the lady said no, due to a provision of the Patriot Act that kicked in Oct. 1, I needed a separate tax number. I said fine and called the IRS lady back, who had no idea what I was talking about.

That's when I got upset.

"Don't you and the FBI ever talk?" I shouted. "Don't you see that for a sole proprietorship by the name of High Peaks Publishing Co. with a dog on its board of directors it would be child's play for my business to funnel funds via my credit card with its $5,000 limit to Osama bin Laden himself?"

She didn't say anything. Now, here I sit with a business and no business credit card, thanks to a government that has no clue what it's doing. So if in the future, my business contracts with your business and I am lowered to the indignity of paying cash, blame the Patriot Act.

Tim Rowland is a Herald-Mail columnist.

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