ACLU Joins Diverse, Right-Left Coalition To Highlight Privacy Violations in Drug War

September 10, 2001 12:00 am

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Statement of Gregory T. Nojeim, Associate Director and Chief Legislative Counsel ACLU Washington National Office


WASHINGTON — The ongoing and misguided “War on Drugs” in this country has claimed a number of unintended casualties, not least of which is the right to privacy of many law-abiding American citizens. The American Civil Liberties Union is encouraged that so many advocacy groups from across the ideological spectrum have joined together to urge the Senate to address this issue. We ask Senators to question John Walters, the Administration’s drug czar nominee, about how the “War on Drugs” has diminished our privacy.

The past two decades have seen the Drug Enforcement Administration, the Federal Bureau of Investigation, the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms and many other government agencies and departments adopt increasingly invasive policies and procedures in their prosecution of American drug policy. For example, the FBI has started to use a technology known as Carnivore that monitors vast amounts of private e-mail correspondence by law-abiding citizens. The ACLU and other privacy groups have long urged the government to leash Carnivore and bring the utterly insufficient laws restricting electronic surveillance of e-mail in line with the strict regulations concerning phone and wiretapping.

The ACLU and other groups are also deeply concerned that the average consumer today has no guarantee that his or her personal information will not be sold to the government in return for forfeiture kickbacks. In April, the Albuquerque Journal reported that Amtrak had opened its customer databases to the DEA in return for a 10 percent cut of all seized property from Amtrak customers.

Congress should also examine the dangerous and harmful phenomenon of racial profiling and its interconnection with the drug war. In its eagerness to “profile” potential drug couriers, dealers and other offenders, government agencies often rely heavily on race as an indicator of illegal activity. The DEA’s own Operation Pipeline actually trains state and local officials to engage in racial profiling. Study after study show that not only is this poor policing but that it has an adverse effect on the public trust in law enforcement.

These and the other government abuses detailed in the coalition letter to Senator Leahy are only some of the ways in which the right to privacy is being leached away in the furtherance of a drug policy of questionable effectiveness. We urge Congress to use the nomination of Walters as an opportunity to bring these crucial issues to the legislative and public fore.

The coalition letter can be found at:

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