Worth reading: Declan McCullagh writes about the proposed renewal of the Patriot Act, describing the 219-page conference report as a political version of a Christmas tree, ornamented with dozens of senators' pet projects. Here's a sample of the ornaments tacked on to the Patriot Act:
Reduces the amount of contraband cigarettes that qualifies as a federal crime. The number drops from 60,000 cigarettes to 10,000.
Creates a new federal crime of photographing or videotaping bridges, garages, tracks, warehouses, or other facilities used by railroads, boats, or airplanes--if such recordings were made with the intent of doing harm. Anyone attacking anyone else near such facilities with a weapon--the list includes "a pocket knife with a blade of less than 2 1⁄2 inches in length and a box cutter"--can be punished with stiff prison terms and even the death penalty.
Increases electronic surveillance of visitors and tourists by ditching a requirement that a surveillance target must be an agent of a "foreign power." Extends electronic monitoring of visitors' and tourists' Internet activities and telephone dialing habits from 90 days to one year.
Boosts criminal penalties: Possessing methamphetamine for distribution to a minor yields a prison term of up to 20 years. Requires a "feasibility study" of a new federal drug court, and funds mandatory drug testing.