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 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. After bypassing a Judiciary Committee mark-up, a few Senators and their staffs met behind closed doors, on October 12, 2001 to craft a bill. The full Senate was presented with anti-terrorism legislation in a take-it-or-leave-it fashion with little opportunity for input or review. No conference committee met to reconcile the differences between the House and Senate versions of the bill. We find it deeply disturbing that once again the full Senate will be forced to vote on legislation that it has not had the opportunity to read. Senate offices are closed and staff cannot even access their papers to fully prepare you for this important vote. 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 Senate should take more time to review and 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:
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
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