ACLU Lauds Internal Justice Review of Potential Patriot Act Abuse; Warns That Secrecy of Powers Clouds Thorough Investigation

September 14, 2004 12:00 am

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WASHINGTON – In a mandated semi-annual report to Congress, the Department of Justice’s Office of the Inspector General yesterday released a report outlining allegations of civil rights and civil liberties abuses by Department personnel under the Patriot Act. The American Civil Liberties Union today called upon the Justice Department to fully investigate how the Patriot Act may have been abused, and expressed concerns over the continued secrecy of the use of Patriot Act powers that possibly prevented a more thorough review.

“With so much of the Patriot Act’s controversial powers shrouded in secrecy, it is no wonder that the Inspector General has found only one possible violation of the Act,” said Anthony Romero, ACLU Executive Director. “What is clear is that the Patriot Act is being used in many investigations that have nothing to do with terrorism. Indeed, many of the potential victims of abuse under the Patriot Act are the most likely to be kept in the dark about what government actions have been taken against them.”

The Inspector General’s report found that in reviewing more than 1,600 allegations of abuse under the Patriot Act filed between December 16, 2003 and June 21, 2004, one of those complaints may in fact be a misuse of Patriot Act powers by federal law enforcement. The ACLU noted that the review only includes registered complaints with the Inspector General – and does not include a routine review of actions taken by law enforcement agents.

The Inspector General has opened an investigation to the allegations raised by Oregon attorney Brandon Mayfield, who was mistakenly identified as being affiliated with the Madrid terrorist bombings of March of this year. His fingerprint was initially believed to match evidence found in Madrid, and Mayfield was detained as a material witness. While he was later cleared by law enforcement, Mayfield contends that law enforcement may have conducted secret “sneak-and-peek” searches of his home, a power outlined in section 213 of the Patriot Act.

The ACLU has noted that most of the egregious provisions of the Patriot Act are in fact removed from public scrutiny, making it very likely that those who may have been the subject of misconduct under Patriot Act powers may not even be aware of it. For example, section 215 of the Patriot Act permits law enforcement to obtain library, medical, financial and other records of individuals – and the record holders are barred from informing the subject of the investigation that their records have been reviewed. The ACLU has challenged that provision in a lawsuit now pending in Detroit.

“The Inspector General relies on the public to come forth with examples of government misconduct,” said Laura W. Murphy, Director of the ACLU Washington Legislative Office. “If the public is kept in the dark about how the Patriot Act is being used, then how are we to know if, and how, it is being misused?”

The Inspector General’s Report can be seen at:

Information about ACLU challenges to the Patriot Act is online at:

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