ACLU of Illinois Welcomes State Attorney General's Admission That Terrorism Definition Is Too Broad

Affiliate: ACLU of Illinois
November 1, 2001 12:00 am

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CHICAGO–Restating a call for state lawmakers to resist a rush to enact flawed legislation granting sweeping new powers for state and local law enforcement, the American Civil Liberties Union of Illinois today welcomed an acknowledgment by state Attorney General Jim Ryan that his proposed legislation’s definition of terrorism is “too broad” and requires “refinement.”

The definition of terrorism — which serves as the foundation for the Attorney General’s proposed anti-terrorism legislation — drew special concern from the ACLU of Illinois in testimony before the Illinois House of Representatives Judiciary Committee on Criminal Law on Wednesday.

“We concur with the Attorney General’s assessment that this language needs to be changed,” said ACLU of Illinois staff attorney Adam Schwartz, who appeared before the House Committee on behalf of the organization. “The General Assembly should take their time and assure that any new legislation actually combats terrorism and does not subject an individual who engages in civil disobedience doing minor property damage to a long prison sentence.”

According to the ACLU, the proposed legislation improperly expands the definition of terrorism, making low-level misdeeds punishable by life imprisonment. Under the definition as currently drafted, an individual engaged in civil disobedience that does minor damage to property could be charged as a terrorist. The ACLU’s view was not disputed during yesterday’s hearing.

The Attorney General noted that some of these concerns came to his attention when newspaper reporters and editorial writers posed questions about the overly broad definition after he announced the legislation last month. He has asked legislators to debate and approve the complex, 77-page bill during the six-day “veto” session scheduled for later this month.

In his testimony Wednesday, the Attorney General discussed with legislators his proposals to expand state and local police authority to conduct electronic surveillance without oversight of a neutral judicial officer, to broaden the circumstances when law enforcement officials can secretly record conversations involving police officers and informants, and to increase police authority to seize property of individuals across Illinois.

His statement to the committee acknowledged that the proposed legislation’s definition of terrorism — a definition developed by a task force of law enforcement and prosecutorial leaders from around the state — is too broad and needs further “refinement.”

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