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Hindered Liberties due to the PATRIOT Act

Document Date: November 17, 2003

In the ACLU’s constitutional challenge to section 215 of the PATRIOT Act, the plaintiffs have filed declarations showing how the threat of this provision, whether or not used, has already been harmful to the Arab American community and others who have come under suspicion since September 11:

  • Two Muslim and Arab community and civil rights organizations – the Muslim Community Association of Ann Arbor and the Islamic Society of Portland – have reported that their members have left or become less active, fundraising has dried up, and attendance at prayers and community events has dropped specifically because of fear the government could use the PATRIOT Act to obtain the organizations’ records and target their members for investigation. In one case, a Board Member even resigned from the association.
  • Bridge Refugee and Sponsorship Services, a refugee and immigrant service organization, has been forced to alter record keeping practices, eliminating some sensitive information that clients do not want released. The new practices interfere with the organizations’ ability to serve their clients, who are victims of torture, persecution and domestic violence, because they cannot keep detailed, sensitive information in their clients’ files for fear it could be obtained by the government.

We also know of compelling anecdotal evidence that some powers under the Act have been misused:

  • The Act’s provisions – sold as necessary to fight terrorism – have often been used in a wide variety of common crimes that do not involve terrorism. Indeed, DOJ attorneys are being trained in how to use the PATRIOT Act to tilt the balance toward the prosecution. For example, Nevada newspapers are reporting that PATRIOT Act terrorism financing powers were used to investigate Michael Galardi, the owner of two Las Vegas strip clubs, in a probe of alleged corruption involving local officials.

Source: “”PATRIOT Act: Law’s Use Causing Concerns,”” Las Vegas Review-Journal, November 5, 2003.

  • In July 2002, a graduate student was charged under the USA PATRIOT Act with possession of a biological agent with no “”reasonably justified”” purpose. His crime: discovering 35-year-old tissue samples from an anthrax-infected cow in a broken university cold-storage unit and moving them to a working freezer. Cooperating fully with authorities, Foral finally agreed to community service and some restrictions on his activities. To his chagrin, however, he also found that his name had been added to the Interagency Border Inspection System, a watch list, after he was detained when trying to reenter the country. His case could chill research in the world of microbiology.

Source: Rosie Mestel, “”Scientists Experiment with Caution,”” Los Angeles Times, September 10, 2002.

  • Anti-money laundering provisions that are now being implemented have had the unintended consequence of denying ordinary Americans access to financial services. French Clements of San Jose, CA, recently tried to open an on-line brokerage account with Harrisdirect in the hopes of beginning a retirement fund. His plans were stymied, however, when the system denied his request, citing the PATRIOT Act, probably because he is a college student whose frequent moves set off a red flag under the new PATRIOT Act regulations.

Source: Kathleen Pender, “”PATRIOT Act Halts Would-be Investor,”” Seattle Post-Intelligencer, September 6, 2003.

  • Passage of the PATRIOT Act muted protests over the U.S. Navy’s continued use of the Vieques bombing range in Puerto Rico. Activists cite fears of extended jail sentences for civil disobedience under the PATRIOT Act’s overbroad definition of terrorism as reason for lackluster turnouts at Vieques protests since 9/11.

Source: “”Vieques protesters muted by 9/11,”” Associated Press, September 4, 2002.

This text was an excerpt from testimony at a hearing on “”America after 9/11: Freedom Preserved or Freedom Lost?”” before the Senate Judiciary Committee submitted by Nadine Strossen, President and Timothy H. Edgar,Legislative Counsel. November 18, 2003

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