Blog of Rights


Know the Difference Between Reform and Spin

By Lisa Graves, Legislative Counsel at 7:54pm
As you know, some partisans in Congress were determined last week to steamroll through a bill to make most of the Patriot Act permanent and some of it even worse. Members of Congress and allies of reform were pressured into the wee hours of the night on Thursday to try to get a bipartisan stamp of approval on a bill that reflects what the Bush administration really wants, adorned with some window dressing but lacking any true reforms that would protect our civil liberties. From the beginning of the week, we were told the bill was a done deal and a vote was due at any moment. In the House, leadership even imposed what is known as the "martial law" rule to allow for the option of a quick debate and vote with only an hour's notice. Proponents of the bill circulated press talking points touting "major" changes to the Patriot Act, despite the exclusion of the the most needed protections in the power to secretly search your personal records. This double-talk is actually a sign of the times, and a signal of how much has changed in four years: Public alarm about the far-reaching, intrusive powers in the Patriot Act is now so widespread that even its proponents must claim their reauthorization bill adds checks and balances. The danger of this rhetorical shift is that it may lead people to trust in protections that have not yet been restored. In reality the new bill, unless modified, would leave the privacy of everyday Americans easily subject to invasion by federal agents, agents who would not need to establish any connection between the records they sought and a suspected terrorist. The next few weeks will be critical in determining whether these most essential reforms will be included in the final bill. Now, more than ever, it is important to write letters to the editor thanking Members of Congress who have courageously stood up to the Bush Administration to insist on these reforms. And to call their local offices, thank them and urge them to stick to their guns. You can expect to see news stories in which congressional sources claim the sticking point in the negotiations is the exact length of the "sunset" (expiration) on a few powers, such as Section 215. But, don't let that spin deceive you. A majority in both houses of Congress already agree that four years makes sense only the White House and its allies want a longer period that takes the spotlight off this administration. And a four-year extension won't make these unconstitutional intrusions more constitutional and certainly won't fix the NSL power, which is currently permanent. That's why the real issue is whether Congress will stand up for your privacy and insist on a connection between any records sought and a suspected terrorist. It's only common sense.

The Business of America is Freedom

By Lisa Graves, Legislative Counsel at 10:34am
Our efforts to reform the worst parts of the Patriot Act, which allow too much government access to sensitive personal records without any facts connecting them to a foreign terrorist, were given a big boost this week. The U.S Chamber of Commerce,…

Delivering the John Doe Petition to the DOJ

By Lisa Graves, Legislative Counsel at 2:00pm

After the Capitol Hill event, more than a dozen librarians went with ACLU members to the Justice Department to deliver 25,000 petition signatures from supporters all over the country who want the government to "Let John Doe Speak."

We traveled…

Taking the NSL Case to Capitol Hill

By Lisa Graves, Legislative Counsel at 4:51pm
Last week, people concerned about the Patriot Act's secretive powers came together in Washington to demand that Attorney General Alberto Gonzales "Let John Doe Speak". John Doe is the pseudonym for the Connecticut member of the American Library Association…

Judge Roberts 3: Return of the Nominee

By Lisa Graves, Legislative Counsel at 12:42pm
third of three entries The Senate's treatment of John Roberts' prior nominations reveals some of the institutional difficulties the political branches have struggled with serving as a check on the independent judicial branch of our federal government. …

Judge Roberts II: Roberts Begins

By Lisa Graves, Legislative Counsel at 1:23am
second of three entries Roberts' work, intellect and devotion to the Reagan agenda won him a post at the White House Counsel's Office, a plum job that combines high profile with more mundane ones. His memos from that time reveal both a keen intellect…

Judge Roberts: Episode One, the Prequel

By Lisa Graves, Legislative Counsel at 10:38pm
first of three entries After a summer of movie prequels, this fall brings us the final chapter of John Roberts' ambition to serve on the United States Supreme Court. But long before the nation knew Roberts' name, he was subject to not just one but two…

The Freedom to Speak About the Freedom to Speak

By Lisa Graves, Legislative Counsel at 4:20pm
Last week in Washington, people were waiting anxiously for the decision in the ACLU lawsuit challenging an FBI demand for records from a member of the American Library Association. We had heard that a decision was likely by the end of the week. Congress…

Proposal for Modest Improvements Passes Senate by "UC"

By Lisa Graves, Legislative Counsel at 12:38pm
Around five o'clock last night, before the Senate broke for its annual August recess, the Specter-Feinstein bill to reauthorize the expiring provisions of the Patriot Act passed. This bipartisan bill was approved through a process called "unanimous consent,"…

Overheard in Oversight Hearing

By Lisa Graves, Legislative Counsel at 2:17pm
Just yesterday, the FBI testified before the Senate Judiciary Committee about the failures in their process for hiring translators to translate foreign intelligence, and made a pitch for administrative subpoenas. In June the Senate Intelligence Committee…
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