ACLU Calls Latest Justice Department Report 'Patriot Act Propaganda,' Says Congress and Public Still Denied Access to the Truth

September 22, 2004 12:00 am

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WASHINGTON – The American Civil Liberties Union today called a Justice Department Justice report on “sneak and peek” warrants one-sided propaganda for the Patriot Act. The release of the report followed a congressional hearing where Senators chastised the Department for failing to meet mandated reporting requirements on the use of section 215, the so-called “business records” provision of the Patriot Act.

“This Justice Department report is propaganda, pure and simple,” said Laura W. Murphy, Director of the ACLU Washington Legislative Office. “Attorney General Ashcroft continues to ignore Congress’s demand that he explain how many of the Patriot Act powers are being used.”

The report, titled “Delayed Notice Search Warrants: A Vital and Time-Honored Tool for Fighting Crime,” was sent by the Justice Department to Congress today. The report outlines how sneak and peek warrants work and how law enforcement has benefited from them.

But the report downplays the changes the Patriot Act made to this law enforcement power, and seriously overstates the judicial support for “sneak and peek” before the Patriot Act wrote this power into federal law. Section 213 of the act substantially lowered the standard for government agents to enter homes, look around, and even take property. Now, the government may delay notice of a search under an overly broad provision that applies whenever harm to the prosecution may result.

The ACLU also noted that sneak and peek warrants no longer require, as the report acknowledges was required in some judicial circuits, that notice be given within seven days after the secret search; instead, an indefinite “reasonable time” is the new standard.

The Justice Department report makes clear that these warrants as expanded by the Patriot Act are often used in non-terrorism related cases. Disturbingly, the report also describes how agents use delayed-notice warrants to trick persons under investigation into thinking they have been the victims of a robbery. While the report contains a list of delayed-notice “success stories,” it fails to address whether law enforcement could have obtained the same result using the stricter judicial standards proposed by Patriot Act critics.

Section 213 was among the many subjects addressed at a Senate Judiciary Committee hearing this morning on the Patriot Act and measures introduced to modify that controversial law. At the hearing, politicians from both parties called for corrections to be made to the Patriot Act to bring it back in line with the Constitution while still giving law enforcement the tools they need to fight terrorism.

One such measure is the bipartisan “Security and Freedom Ensured Act,” (S. 1709/H.R. 3352, sponsored by Senators Larry Craig (R-ID) and Richard Durbin (D-IL), who spoke before their colleagues on the Judiciary Committee.

“The Department of Justice is months overdue in meeting congressionally mandated deadlines for reporting on the Patriot Act,” said Timothy Edgar, ACLU Legislative Counsel. “Yet Attorney General Ashcroft finds time to release reports that promulgate these controversial powers. And the Attorney General, who can’t find time to meet with key Congressional committees, found time last year to promote the Patriot Act on a nationwide tour. Congress and the public cannot have an informed discussion about the Patriot Act if they are kept in the dark about its use – and cheerleading reports on the Patriot Act are no substitute for real answers.”

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