Letter to the House Urging Rejection on the Final Version of the USA PATRIOT Act

Document Date: October 23, 2001

Dear Representative:

The American Civil Liberties Union is writing to urge you to reject the final version of the anti-terrorism legislation, the Uniting and Strengthening America By Providing Appropriate Tools Required To Intercept and Obstruct Terrorism (H.R. 3162, the “USA PATRIOT Act”). This is an historic vote that is based upon a false dichotomy: that safety must come at the expense of civil liberties. We can be safe and fight terrorism without substantially surrendering our civil liberties, and without giving enormous, unwarranted power to the executive branch – which can be used against U.S. citizens — unchecked by meaningful judicial review.

The process that brought you this bill is terribly flawed. We find it deeply disturbing that once again the full House will be forced to vote on legislation that Members have not had the opportunity to read. House offices are closed and staff cannot even access their papers to fully prepare members of Congress for this important vote. Once again, a bill is coming to the House floor that bears little resemblance to the significantly modified version of the bill unanimously adopted by the House Judiciary Committee on October 3, 2001. No conference committee met to reconcile the differences between the House and Senate versions of the bill. Regular order is being rejected and it is an offense to the thoughtful legislative procedures necessary to protect the Constitution and Bill of Rights at a time when the rights of so many Americans are being jeopardized.

While it contains provisions that we support, the American Civil Liberties Union believes that the USA PATRIOT Act gives the Attorney General and federal law enforcement unnecessary and permanent new powers to violate civil liberties that go far beyond the stated goal of fighting international terrorism. These new and unchecked powers could be used against American citizens who are not under criminal investigation, immigrants who are here within our borders legally, and also against those whose First Amendment activities are deemed to be threats to national security by the Attorney General.

We believe that the legislation confers new powers on the Executive Branch and federal law enforcement that go beyond what is necessary to fight terrorism. Notwithstanding all of the exhortations by the Attorney General to pass this legislation quickly, the House should take more time to review and fully debate the broad new authorities given to federal law enforcement in the various provisions of the USA PATRIOT Act.

Among the bill’s most troubling provisions are measures that would:

  • Permit the Attorney General to indefinitely incarcerate or detain non-citizens based on mere suspicion, and to deny re-admission to the United States of non-citizens (including lawful permanent residents) for engaging in speech protected by the First Amendment.
  • Minimize judicial supervision of telephone and Internet surveillance by law enforcement authorities in anti-terrorism investigations and in routine criminal investigations unrelated to terrorism.
  • Expand the ability of the government to conduct secret searches — again in anti-terrorism investigations and in routine criminal investigations unrelated to terrorism.
  • Give the Attorney General and the Secretary of State the power to designate domestic groups as terrorist organizations and block any non-citizen who belongs to them from entering the country. Under this provision the payment of membership dues is a deportable offense.
  • Grant the FBI broad access to sensitive medical, financial, mental health, and educational records about individuals without having to show evidence of a crime and without a court order.
  • Lead to large-scale investigations of American citizens for “intelligence” purposes and use of intelligence authorities to by-pass probable cause requirements in criminal cases.
  • Put the CIA and other intelligence agencies back in the business of spying on Americans by giving the Director of Central Intelligence the authority to identify priority targets for intelligence surveillance in the United States.
  • Allow searches of highly personal financial records without notice and without judicial review based on a very low standard that does not require probable cause of a crime or even relevancy to an ongoing terrorism investigation.
  • Allow student records to be searched based on a very low standard of relevancy to an investigation.
  • Create a broad new definition of “domestic terrorism” that could sweep in people who engage in acts of political protest and subject them to wiretapping and enhanced penalties.

    In past times of tragedy and fear, our government has harassed, investigated and arrested people solely because of their race, religion, national origin, speech or political beliefs. We must not allow this to happen again, even as we work together to protect ourselves from future terrorist attacks. For these reasons, the ACLU urges you to vote against the USA PATRIOT Act of 2001. For more information about the bill, please visit our website at http://archive.aclu.org.


    Laura W. Murphy
    Director, ACLU Washington Office

    Gregory T. Nojeim
    Associate Director & Chief Legislative Counsel

    Distributed by Rep. Bobby Scott (D,VA)

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