ACLU Says That Patriot Act Has Been Misused, Extent Unknown Because of Government Stonewalling

June 7, 2004

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE

NEW YORK -- The American Civil Liberties Union today countered the Bush administration's frequent claim that the USA Patriot Act should be made permanent, saying that, at a minimum, the law has been misused.  The ACLU also criticized the excessive secrecy surrounding the law, which makes it impossible to find out the extent of its misuse or abuse.

Moreover, the ACLU called the administration's frequent claim that the law is not being abused a ""red herring.""  Not only are the law's provisions enforced in secret, but the law itself violates the Constitution.  It weakens judicial review and other crucial checks and balances in the government's surveillance and investigative powers.  That, in and of itself, justifies a narrowing of the law, the ACLU said.

""The Bush administration stonewalled us when we asked for information about prisoner abuses in Iraq and Afghanistan, which we now know to have been ongoing and serious,"" said ACLU Executive Director Anthony D. Romero. ""Unfortunately, the Bush administration continues to deny every reasonable request for information on how the Patriot Act is being used.""

The ACLU's Romero directly called on the Bush administration to finally disclose information showing just how the law has been used - or abused.  The ACLU has filed half a dozen FOIA requests and has challenged in four lawsuits key parts of the law that limit checks and balances in the government's surveillance and investigative powers.  It has also testified and written about the civil liberties problems in the Patriot Act more than any other group in the nation. 

The ACLU's concern peaked over the 2004 New Year's holiday when the Las Vegas Review-Journal confirmed that the FBI had ham-handedly used so-called ""national security letters"" to seize the travel and hotel records of over 300,000 visitors to the city.  The bureau did so without any actual intelligence suggesting an imminent attack in Las Vegas.  National security letter authority was expanded by the Patriot Act and a 2003 intelligence spending bill to allow agents to seize credit, business and communications records without the assent of a judge or grand jury, let alone a showing of criminal probable cause.

The ACLU's comments come in response to speeches given over the past several days by Vice President Dick Cheney, former Republican National Committee chairman Mark Racicot and Cheney advisor Mary Matalin.  In their remarks, they quote Senator Dianne Feinstein (D-CA), who mischaracterized an ACLU e-mail message last November when she said that the ACLU could not provide her with any evidence of abuse.

The ACLU e-mail actually said that because the Patriot Act was being implemented under the strictest secrecy, no outside group could know whether the law was being abused.  It also noted that at the press conference introducing a bill to narrow parts of the Patriot Act, original co-sponsor Larry Craig, a conservative Republican Senator from Idaho, said the potential for abuse was an entirely legitimate reason for reform.

""Senator Dianne Feinstein mischaracterized an ACLU e-mail at a Congressional hearing last year,"" said Laura W. Murphy, Director of the ACLU Washington Legislative Office.  ""While the Bush-Cheney administration is using her remarks as partisan fodder, it refuses to provide the information she, other members and the ACLU have been requesting for many months that would show how the Patriot Act is being used.""  

The ACLU's e-mail to Senator Feinstein is posted on-line at: /cpredirect/17446

For more information on the Patriot Act, see: /patriot         
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