ACLU Urges Caution Against Piecemeal Expansion of Patriot Act; Calls for Stringent Oversight of Existing Powers

June 22, 2004 12:00 am

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WASHINGTON — Despite bipartisan concern about how the Justice Department is using existing anti-terrorism powers, a Senate committee today considered legislation that would further compromise freedom.

“We’ve already lost too many freedoms in the name of national security,” said Laura W. Murphy, Director of the ACLU Washington Legislative Office. “Members of Congress from both sides of the aisle, advocacy groups across the political and ideological spectrum and millions of Americans have spoken with one voice to demand that we have both security and freedom. We must not enact new laws that further undermine the fundamental values of our democracy.”

Today’s hearing before a Senate Judiciary subcommittee was called to examine administrative subpoenas and new pretrial detention powers. While the hearing is not ostensibly focused on specific legislation, separate bills have been introduced in the House and Senate that include these provisions, which were first introduced as part of the now-defunct Patriot II measure drafted by the Justice Department.

The administrative subpoena power being sought by the Justice Department would give law enforcement the authority to seize records and compel testimony in terrorism cases without prior review by a court or grand jury. This provision of Patriot II is included in House legislation called the “Antiterrorism Tools Enhancement Act of 2003” (HR 3037). The ACLU has warned that HR 3037 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 Justice Department is also seeking expanded pretrial detention powers that would allow the government to deny bail to those charged with terrorism-related offenses. Included in legislation called the “Pretrial Detention and Lifetime Supervision of Terrorists Act of 2003” (HR 3040/S 1606), these powers would, if adopted, erode due process rights. The ACLU noted that the Justice Department has already demonstrated that it is quick to label people as being connected to terrorism and slow to clear them.

“Despite growing and repeated calls to bring the Patriot Act back in line with the Constitution, some seek to further expand on those powers,” said Timothy Edgar, an ACLU Legislative Counsel. “Most of these are powers they already have — the changes would only further diminish checks and balances against abuse.”

To read the ACLU’s statement for the record and a breakdown of what current powers allow, go to:

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