ACLU Calls Move To Make Patriot Act Permanent Premature, Unwise; Calls Upon Hatch to Honor Vow to Examine Patriot Act Corrections Bill

May 24, 2004 12:00 am

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WASHINGTON – The American Civil Liberties Union today voiced its strong opposition to legislation introduced in the Senate Friday that seeks to make permanent portions of the Patriot Act currently set to expire at the end of 2005. The measure follows a commitment by Senator Orrin Hatch (R-UT) to hold hearings on a Patriot Act corrections bill.

“Congress had the foresight to make temporary some provisions of the hastily enacted Patriot Act,” said Timothy Edgar, an ACLU Legislative Counsel. “It is extremely premature to make these provisions permanent when Congress has not conducted thorough oversight on how the Act has been used and what safeguards can be included to protect civil liberties.”

S. 2476 was introduced by Senator Jon Kyl (R-AR), and calls for all of the sunset provisions of the Patriot to be lifted, essentially making the entire Act permanent. The bill lacks a companion measure in the House. Sixteen parts of the Patriot Act sunset or expire at the end of 2005, when they will then be subject to Congressional oversight and reauthorization.

The Kyl measure seeks to make entire Patriot Act permanent, even while there is a growing bipartisan and bicameral support for the Security and Freedom Ensured (Safe) Act of 2003, which seeks to bring the Patriot Act back in line with the Constitution while providing law enforcement with the tools needed to combat terrorism. “A number of Republican senators, including members of the Judiciary Committee, support reform of the Patriot Act, not repeal of the sunset provision,” Edgar noted “If brought to a vote in the Judiciary Committee or on the Senate floor, repeal of the sunset provision would be defeated by a comfortable margin.”

Instead of making the Patriot Act permanent, several Republican senators, including Larry Craig (ID), Arlen Specter (PA), John Sununu (NH) and Mike Crapo (ID), would instead narrow a controversial provision, section 215, that allows the FBI to obtain Americans’ medical, business, library and even genetic records without probable cause. The SAFE Act would preclude investigative fishing expeditions by requiring some individualized suspicion that the targets of secret records searches have some connection to a foreign government or organization.

Last Thursday, the Senate Judiciary Committee held a FBI oversight hearing, where Hatch said, “I do intend to have a hearing on the SAFE Act. I think my colleagues feel that that’s something that should be done, and Senator Leahy and I will hold that hearing.” The ACLU welcomed the Chairman’s willingness to hold a hearing.

Since the PATRIOT Act’s passage, pressure from all points on the political spectrum has been building in Congress for fixes to several controversial provisions. To date, pro-civil liberties resolutions have passed in 318 communities in 40 states, including four statewide resolutions. These communities represent approximately 51.1 million people who oppose sections of the Patriot Act and urge corrections to be made.

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