ACLU of Northern CA Says Gov. Davis's Wiretapping Proposals Are Unnecessary and Harmful to Civil Liberties

January 10, 2002 12:00 am

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SAN FRANCISCO–The American Civil Liberties Union of Northern California today criticized Gov. Gray Davis’s pledge to give new powers to state and local law enforcement to use “roving”” wiretaps and monitor e-mail.

The ACLU said the measures are unnecessary because they mirror existing federal law and are harmful to civil liberties because they could lead to surveillance of innocent Americans.

“”We are concerned about how the Governor’s proposals will weaken judicial supervision of telephone and Internet surveillance by law enforcement and will lead to the surveillance of many innocent Californians,” said Dorothy Ehrlich, Executive Director of the ACLU of Northern California. “California is currently facing a major budget deficit and we would be better served if the governor allocated state funds to help fight bio-terrorism instead of duplicating the federal government’s efforts.”

Last October, President Bush signed into law the USA-PATRIOT Act, the sweeping anti-terrorism legislation that was introduced shortly after the September 11 attacks on the World Trade Center and the Pentagon. The ACLU opposed many measures in the law including the expanded surveillance authority that provides lower standards for obtaining wiretaps in criminal investigations, the use of “roving wiretaps,” and monitoring of e-mail.

“”The governor’s proposals could have an enormous impact on the privacy of innocent people while addressing the issue of terrorism only on the margins,” said Ann Brick, a staff attorney with the ACLU of Northern California. “For example, under the roving wiretap provisions, once the police have a wiretap order, there is no further judicial review. Law enforcement is essentially given carte blanche to decide which particular telephone lines it will tap. Anyone who comes into contact with a suspect, no matter how innocent the encounter, could find themselves fair game for a wiretap, on the theory that the suspect might be using their telephone.

“”In the end,”” Ehrlich, added, “”it is not just the privacy protected by the Fourth Amendment that is threatened by the Governor’s proposals, but also the freedoms of expression and association which are guaranteed under the First Amendment.””

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