ACLU: Congress Should Resist Urge To Quickly Rewrite Wiretap Laws

September 14, 2001 12:00 am

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WASHINGTON — The American Civil Liberties Union today joined with senior lawmakers in urging Congress not to rush to pass legislation to rewrite portions of the nation’s wiretap laws in response to this week’s terrorist attacks against the nation.

“In the hours and days after the tragic attacks in New York and Washington our national leaders have been nearly unanimous in their insistence that the tragedies not be used to diminish liberty,” said Gregory T. Nojeim, Associate Director of the ACLU Washington National Office. “But at its very first opportunity, the Senate passed legislation that threatens privacy rights without receiving any public showing that it would make us any safer.”

Last night, the Senate added several troubling provisions to a spending bill for the Commerce, Justice and State departments. The provisions expanded the circumstances under which the government can force Internet service providers to give law enforcement agencies information about private emails. The ACLU said that the government can already easily obtain this information by complying with the minimal requirement of prior court review and questioned why the Senate would so quickly jettison even this most basic protection in more circumstances.

Despite the CIA’s sad history of spying on Americans, the amendment also called on the President to propose legislation that could raise the frightening possibility that the CIA might again be authorized to get back in the domestic intelligence business. Currently, the CIA is largely barred from operating in the United States.

During the debate over the amendments, Vermont Senator Patrick Leahy, Chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee, urged the Senate not to rush to adopt the wiretapping provisions and said no committee has had a chance to review the measures that he said would make it easier for law enforcement to wiretap private computers.

“Maybe the Senate wants to just go ahead and adopt new abilities to wiretap our citizens,” Senator Leahy said. “Maybe they want to adopt new abilities to go into people’s computers. Maybe that will make us feel safer. Maybe. And maybe what the terrorists have done made us a little bit less safe. Maybe they have increased Big Brother in this country.”

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