Statement of Gregory T. Nojeim
Associate Director, ACLU Washington Legislative Office
FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
WASHINGTON - It's particularly apt that this bill be titled the ""Ben Franklin True Patriot Act,"" for it was that great leader who once said, ""Passion governs, and she never governs wisely."" Passion does not usually govern, but when she does, measures like the 2001 USA PATRIOT Act result. This law - because of the panic created by the worst terrorist attack on American soil -- went too far, too fast.
Passing the massive legislation only 45 days after 9/11, Congress had little opportunity to deliberatively consider the PATRIOT Act. The result was a 342-page piece of legislation, the bulk of which was non-controversial, yet which contained several stealthy, but radical, changes to the investigative powers of our federal government. Civil liberties supporters seek only to roll back these overreaching segments of the bill.
Congressmen Dennis Kucinich from Ohio and Ron Paul from Texas have taken a necessary step in that direction. Congress now has a chance to repair the damage done by what conservative Republican Don Young from Alaska called ""emotional voting."" This legislation would ensure that an effective ""war on terrorism"" is conducted within the bounds of the Constitution. Congress must take this concrete step toward ensuring both our safety and our freedom.
The bill addresses most of the bill's contentious provisions, repealing Section 213, which normalizes delayed-notification ""sneak and peek"" searches in statute; Section 215, which grants the FBI vast new authority to secretly access Americans library, medical, financial and even genetic information, among other things, with only cursory judicial review. It also modifies the broad redefinition of ""domestic terrorism"" in the bill to preclude its use against political advocacy groups.
Not only does this bill deal appropriately with these problematic sections of the PATRIOT Act , it also takes steps to roll back other equally pernicious policies and legislation passed in response to 9/11.
For instance, the proposed True Patriot Act fixes the 18-month-old law barring all non-citizens from working as baggage handlers, a measure that resulted in mass firings of experienced workers -- to the detriment of Americans' safety. It also seeks to repeal the Attorney General's regulation that allows the federal government to monitor attorney-client conversations in federal prisons without a court order.
The True Patriot Act also corrects some of the anti-immigrant measures taken since 9/11, including the Justice Department's policy of closing all immigration proceedings in certain cases, a veil that includes omitting any mention of the hearing in the court docket. The ACLU and Congressman John Conyers of Michigan filed suit against this blackout order last year, prompting a federal judge to declare, ""democracies die behind closed doors."" The legislation would also ensure that the FBI would not spy on protesters or in religious institutions unless it was investigating criminal activity.
Congressmen Kucinich and Paul should be applauded for their willingness to revisit the mistakes made in the PATRIOT Act. For America to remain safe and free, we need to keep our eye on the ball and our heart firmly wrapped around the Constitution and Bill of Rights. We support this legislation and encourage other members to co-sponsor it.Thank you.