ACLU Calls for System of Checks and Balances As Congress Deliberates; New Measures Must Remain True to the Constitution

August 3, 2004 12:00 am

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WASHINGTON – As two key House and Senate Committees convened special summer recess hearings to examine some of the recommendations of the 9/11 Commission, the American Civil Liberties Union today urged caution, and called for full deliberation before Congress enacts policies that would have a far reaching impact into the privacy and personal freedoms of Americans for generations to come.

“We saw with the Patriot Act that policies enacted in haste lack the calm and consideration that these important issues merit,” said Gregory T. Nojeim, Associate Director of ACLU Washington Legislative Office. “Congress is taking the right step by examining the recommendations of the 9/11 Commission – we hope that they can put politics aside and enact changes that are respectful of our fundamental freedoms; a balance between security and liberty can, and must, be maintained.”

The recent release of the 9/11 Commission’s findings and recommendations have sparked a series of Congressional hearings during the summer recess, a rarity in a time usually reserved for members of Congress to conduct work in their legislative districts. This morning, the House Committee on Government Reform met with government experts, including members of the 9/11 Commission, to examine the issue of information sharing; the Senate Government Affairs committee met to discuss the proposal for the creation of a new National Counter-Terrorism Center.

In a report release last week, the ACLU raised serious questions about the Commission’s recommendations, including the proposed National Counter-Terrorism Center, which would be housed at the White House and operate under the authority of the proposed National Intelligence Director. Both the NID and NCTC would centralize power over both foreign and domestic intelligence collection agencies in the White House, raising serious civil liberties concerns.

The ACLU pointed to the potential that both the NID and NCTC would blur the line between foreign and domestic intelligence gathering – raising the possibility that methods reserved for foreign intelligence gathering could be used domestically, with little regard for protecting the civil liberties of American citizens. Historically, the FBI and CIA have operated with very different rules, and any changes could lead to a loss of personal freedoms for Americans.

The White House yesterday endorsed the creation of a NID, which would consolidate the 15 agencies that make up the intelligence community into one White House official. The ACLU has recommended that Congress ensure that any new Intelligence Czar be housed outside the White House, not have operational authority over domestic surveillance, and be Senate-confirmed and subject to strong oversight. Indeed, the White House last week released a report on the 9/11 Commission’s recommendations that called for the protection of both privacy and civil liberties.

Regarding the issue of information sharing, the ACLU continued its call for a decrease in the amount of government secrecy, and called for proper protections to be put in place to protect individuals from unwarranted privacy violations.

“As we enact changes, we must always uphold the ideals in the Constitution,” Nojeim added. “What Congress does today about intelligence reform, America will have to live with for decades.”

The ACLU’s recommendations can be read at:

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