ACLU Urges Caution as First 9/11 Commission Implementation Bill is Introduced, Calls for Careful Deliberation Before Far Reaching Changes are Enacted

September 7, 2004 12:00 am

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WASHINGTON – Following the introduction of the first Congressional legislation building upon the findings of the 9/11 commission, the American Civil Liberties Union today renewed its call for a calm and deliberative process before lawmakers enact changes that would have a far reaching impact on the freedoms and liberties of all Americans.

“The Patriot Act taught us that legislation passed in haste can lead to an unnecessary loss of privacy and freedom,” said Laura W. Murphy, Director of the ACLU Washington Legislative Office. “As Congress considers ways to make the country safer, we must also strive to protect the Constitution rather than undermine it. The 9/11 commission’s recommendations warrant careful deliberation and Congress must not simply rubberstamp its findings.”

The ACLU voiced its concerns after Senators John McCain (R-AZ) and Joe Lieberman (D-CT) introduced the bipartisan “9/11 Commission Report Implementation Act,” the first piece of legislation that has been introduced that builds upon the findings of the 9/11 commission. The release of that report sparked a series of unprecedented summer recess hearings during August.

While most of the report remains innocuous or even desirable, the ACLU had raised serious concerns with certain sections. Unfortunately, the McCain-Lieberman bill retains many of the problematic sections of the original report.

In particular, the ACLU remains highly concerned about the intelligence reform provision that would consolidate the intelligence community in one National Intelligence Authority. This NIA would be a free-standing agency, alleviating concerns raised by the ACLU and others that the intelligence community would have placed into the pocket of the President, creating the potential for the politicization of intelligence operations could occur.

However, the head of the NIA would still be the National Intelligence Director, who would have oversight over all intelligence operations. The ACLU is also worried that having one person in charge of both domestic and foreign intelligence gathering could result in the greater use of espionage tradecraft against American citizens on American soil.

Similar concerns have been raised in the legislative call for the creation of a National Counterterrorism Center, which would over see all of the government’s counterterrorism operations. Like the NID, the NCTC would centralize power over both foreign and domestic intelligence collection agencies in the White House, raising serious civil liberties concerns. Historically, the FBI and CIA have operated with very different rules, and any changes could lead to a loss of personal freedoms for Americans.

The McCain-Lieberman bill does contain a provision that would require the NID to submit an unclassified budget request that would also outline the previous year’s appropriations for each intelligence agency. The ACLU applauded the measure, calling it particularly welcome in the growing climate of over-classification of government information.

Another point of contention is the bill’s call for the Department of Homeland Security to establish national standards for birth certificates, drivers’ licenses and identification cards, leading the ACLU to call it a bureaucratic back door attempt to create a national ID card system and a serious threat to privacy, liberty and safety. Racial, religious or ethnic profiling, and illegal discrimination could increase, and failure to carry an ID would become an added pretext for the unwarranted search, detention and arrest of minorities.

The ACLU also expressed cautious optimism over the provision establishing the “Privacy and Civil Liberties Oversight Board.” The proposed board would have the power to subpoena records, and would review the privacy and civil liberties impact of efforts aimed at protecting the nation against terrorism, and would advise the President and federal agencies. If properly structured, such a board would help ensure that anti-terrorism measures were truly geared towards fighting terrorism, and not pushing a political agenda.

“Any restructuring of our national intelligence operations must be done with civil liberties in mind,” said Charlie Mitchell, an ACLU Legislative Counsel. “Congress must not blindly implement the commission’s findings without considering the long-term ramifications that it will have on our basic freedoms and liberties. We must not permit a ‘trust us we’re the government’ attitude to guide significant changes that will affect all Americans.”

The full ACLU analysis of the 9/11 commission report can be found at:
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