ACLU Disappointed With 'Intelligence Reform' Bill Passage, Final Measure Still Contains Unneeded Attacks on Privacy and Freedom

December 8, 2004 12:00 am

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


WASHINGTON – In their haste to reach an agreement on intelligence reform legislation, lawmakers failed to protect freedom and privacy. While some extreme anti-immigrant measures were rejected, the bill does include several unnecessary surveillance and other Patriot Act-like provisions not found in the recommendations of the 9/11 Commission, but included at the insistence of several House members.

This is not to say that Senators Collins and Lieberman and Representatives Hoekstra and Harman should not be applauded for their hard work. To reach consensus on any issue is a daunting task. However, from a civil liberties standpoint, the final measure still falls short.

This restructuring will centralize the intelligence community’s surveillance powers, increasing the likelihood for government abuses, without creating sufficient corresponding safeguards.

In one of the biggest disappointments, the compromise bill severely watered down a strong, independent review board designed to protect civil liberties. On one hand, lawmakers want to vastly increase the government’s power; on the other, they want to diminish oversight. The civil liberties board, as it currently stands, it little more than window dressing and a token nod to the freedoms that are an essential part of our society.

The final bill also lays the foundation for a de facto national ID card. Opposition for the intrusive measure came from the ACLU and numerous groups across the political spectrum, including the American Conservative Union and the Free Congress Foundation. A national ID card is unproven to deter terrorism or weed out terrorists, but it would strip away our privacy and inch us closer to a ‘Big Brother’ society.

Finally, the intelligence reform bill unnecessarily expands upon law enforcement powers – several of which were seen in the draft Patriot Act 2 – a measure so controversial, it was never considered by Congress. Specifically, it unnecessarily expands wiretapping to erase a key constitutional safeguard and expands the “guilt by association” material support law, including making mere membership in a designated terrorist organization a criminal offense for the first time. It should be remembered that the 9/11 Commission did not call for any of these provisions in its report.

We applaud Congress for resisting attempts by a few hard-line Members of Congress to insert further assaults on immigrants’ rights and grant law enforcement sweeping new powers. We hope that they could have passed a bill that was completely protective of our most cherished liberties, but that was not the case.

To read more about the ACLU’s concerns with the intelligence reform legislation, go to:

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