ACLU Says Homeland Security Bill Step Backward; Demands Senate Include Civil Liberties Protections

September 24, 2002 12:00 am

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WASHINGTON – The American Civil Liberties Union today strongly criticized a new version, unveiled this morning, of the legislation establishing the cabinet-level Homeland Security Department, saying that it is a “constitutionally bankrupt” measure that lacks privacy or civil rights protections.

“Homeland security is too important an issue to be handled so recklessly,” said Timothy Edgar, an ACLU Legislative Counsel. “A department so large must have robust oversight and proper civil rights and privacy protections. Without these, what’s to stop the Department from abusing the very citizens it is responsible for protecting?”

The new legislation, sponsored by Sens. Zell Miller (D-GA) and Phil Gramm (R-TX), is designed as a substitute for the Senate Homeland Security Department plan drafted by Sen. Joseph Lieberman (D-CT). Its supporters may try to ram through the bill by invoking cloture, which would forestall debate and preclude needed amendments.

The ACLU and other organizations have been concerned for weeks now that the final department would be implemented without adequate oversight from Congress and proper civil rights protections. Advocates were heartened last month, however, when House Majority Leader Richard Armey (R-TX) included some basic safeguards, including an in-house privacy watchdog and an amendment forbidding the President’s poorly received Operation TIPS program of citizen-spies.

The new Senate version surprisingly contains none of these protections and in fact most closely mirrors President Bush’s wishlist Homeland Security plan. Both the President’s scheme and the new Senate bill would implement a “constitutionally bankrupt” institution, the ACLU said.

Particularly troubling in the bill is the absence of civil rights oversight mechanisms, the refusal to take into account broad public concern over Operations TIPS, provisions that allow advisory committees to be secret and a provision that would gut protections for non-citizen children in the Lieberman bill.

“It looks like the Senate supporters of this measure have taken a Santa Claus approach to the President’s wishlist,” said Rachel King, an ACLU Legislative Counsel. “Even after all this time, the bill still looks a lot like the President’s troubling proposal.”

The ACLU’s letter on the Gramm-Miller amendment can be found at:

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