ACLU Calls on Gonzales to Engage in Open Dialogue on Patriot Act; Rhetoric of Administration Fails to Match Policies, Actions

March 7, 2005 12:00 am

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Statement of Laura W. Murphy, Director of the ACLU Washington Legislative Office


WASHINGTON – With certain provisions of the Patriot Act set to expire at the end of this year unless Congress renews them, the administration is putting on the charm offensive. Today Attorney General Alberto Gonzales continued the public relations campaign started by former Attorney General John Ashcroft and President Bush. Their spin, however, hasn’t calmed the millions of Americans who are concerned that our basic rights have been compromised in the name of national security.

The attorney general told the National Association of Counties today that the goal of the Patriot Act should be “to give law enforcement the tools they need to keep America safe, while honoring our values and our Constitution.” We completely agree. The ACLU believes most of the Patriot Act meets this standard. But a few extreme provisions go too far and let law enforcement trample civil liberties in the name of fighting terrorism.

One of these provisions involves “sneak and peek” search warrants. Gonzales is correct that they require judicial approval, but he leaves out how the Patriot Act made it harder for judges to reject the warrants. Sneak and peek warrants were already available for national security investigations, but the Patriot Act made it much easier for federal agents to search our homes, and not tell us about it for weeks or even months.

Gonzales proclaims that “there has not been one verified civil rights abuse under the Patriot Act,” but in doing so he turns a blind eye to how the Patriot Act actually works. The act itself is shrouded in secrecy. If librarians reveal that the FBI has sought your library records using the act, they can be fined or imprisoned. And recently, a a federal judge struck down a Patriot Act provision that forced Internet and telephone companies to turn over their customer records, and barred them from even revealing that the search took place. On top of all this, the Justice Department consistently refuses to give the ACLU-and Congress– basic information on how the act has been used.

Members of Congress knew these provisions were extreme, and should not be made permanent: that’s why they will “sunset.” As the sunset date approaches, Congress should pause and listen to the concerns of disparate groups like the ACLU, the American Conservative Union, Americans for Tax Reform, the Eagle Forum and the Free Congress Foundation. Congress should listen to the 372 local governments – including the states of Alaska, Hawaii, Maine and Vermont – that have passed resolutions demanding that Congress bring the Patriot Act back in line with the constitution.

Congress should hear their concerns, rather than the charm offensive of the Bush administration.

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