ACLU Says Congress Seeks to Expand Patriot Act; Says New Law Would Further Diminish Privacy and Freedom

September 13, 2004 12:00 am

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WASHINGTON – The American Civil Liberties Union today raised deep concerns as a key Senate panel convened to consider a proposed expansion of the USA Patriot Act, the controversial 2001 counter-terrorism law.

“Congress must not repeat the mistakes of the Patriot Act and adopt laws that undermine freedom with little added security,” said Laura W. Murphy, Director of the ACLU Washington Legislative Office. “Instead of considering new laws to further erode our privacy and freedoms, the Senate should be reviewing the Patriot Act to bring it in line with the Constitution.”

The new bill, called the “Tools to Fight Terrorism Act of 2004” (S. 2679), includes many provisions of the draft “Patriot Act 2” legislation leaked from the Justice Department last year. That bill was roundly criticized by both Republicans and Democrats and never moved beyond a draft. However, some of the provisions of the Patriot Act 2 have been passed piecemeal in Congress.

The proposal would increase the government’s powers to secretly obtain personal records without judicial review, limit judicial discretion over the use of secret evidence in criminal cases, eliminate important foreign intelligence wiretapping safeguards and allow the use of secret intelligence wiretaps in immigration cases without notice or an opportunity to suppress illegally acquired evidence.

The legislation would also grant the Department of Justice expanded administrative subpoena power – the authority to seize records and compel testimony in terrorism cases without prior review by a court or grand jury. The ACLU warned that S. 2679 would erode already diminished judicial oversight on this broad and intrusive power, and would allow access to confidential records without individual suspicion of wrongdoing.

The ACLU also noted that the proposal could actually hurt America’s anti-terrorism efforts in its call to expand crimes eligible for the death penalty. Many nations that have abolished the death penalty are unwilling to extradite or provide evidence in federal terrorism cases if the suspect could be subjected to the death penalty as a result of their cooperation with the United States.

S. 2679 builds on many of the most troubling provisions of the Patriot Act. To date, more than 352 American communities, encompassing nearly 54 million Americans nationwide have passed resolutions asking Congress to revisit the Patriot Act and oppose any further expansion of the law.

“Across the nation, people are demanding that lost freedoms be restored,” said Timothy Edgar, an ACLU Legislative Counsel. “Liberals and conservatives alike do not want the government to further expand upon the Patriot Act without a thorough review of it’s effectiveness.”

The ACLU’s analysis of S. 2679, “Tools to Fight Terrorism Act of 2004,” is available at:
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