ACLU Tells House Intelligence Panel To Be Wary of New Surveillance Powers; Asks Congress to Focus on Core Structural Intelligence Problems

April 9, 2003 12:00 am

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WASHINGTON – Testifying before a rare open hearing of the House’s intelligence oversight committee, the American Civil Liberties Union today warned lawmakers to be wary of new surveillance powers for the federal government and to instead stay focused on the core structural problems identified by Congress in its official investigation of the terrorist attacks of September 11.

“”The Congressional findings and recommendations about 9-11 are not about a lack of legal authority to collect intelligence information or to share intelligence information, but instead concern fundamental organizational breakdowns,”” said Timothy Edgar, an ACLU Legislative Counsel who testified this morning before the House Permanent Select Committee on Intelligence.

“”Congress itself said those breakdowns prevented the government from using its existing surveillance powers effectively,”” Edgar said. “”At no point did the Congressional report on 9-11 say that the attacks resulted because the government lacked surveillance powers or was stymied because of checks and balances on law enforcement.””

Today’s hearing, “”Securing the Freedom of the Nation: Collecting Intelligence Under the Law,”” dealt with a broad range of civil liberties and information-privacy issues. In his testimony, the ACLU’s Edgar argued broadly that safety and freedom need not be mutually exclusive and that Congress must assert its role as a check on presidential power in preserving national security and individual rights.

“”The challenge to our intelligence community is the same as the challenge for the nation as a whole,”” Edgar said. “”Securing the nation’s freedom depends not on making a choice between security and liberty, but in designing and implementing policies that allow the American people to be both safe and free.””

In particular, Edgar’s testimony urged Congress to recognize that emerging technological capabilities should remain tethered by the same basic constitutional principles that have limited government invasions of privacy throughout American history. This is especially important, he said, considering that traditionally out-of-bounds personal items such as diaries or calendars are now no longer locked in desk drawers but are kept, more often than not, in the world of cyber-space.

“”Government policies that ask Americans to give up essential liberties for freedom present a false and dangerous choice,”” Edgar told the Committee. “”The lessons of September 11 – that this Committee itself has helped uncover – show us how intelligence reforms can be implemented without compromising civil liberties.””

The ACLU’s testimony can be found at:

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