ACLU Urges Congress to Modify Patriot Act to Restore Checks and Balances As House Committees Consider Reauthorization Bills

July 13, 2005 12:00 am

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WASHINGTON – The American Civil Liberties Union today urged Congress to modify the Patriot Act to protect Americans’ civil liberties and not simply approve cosmetic changes. Two key House committees meet today to consider legislation to reauthorize the anti-terrorism law, and both chambers of Congress are expected to vote on Patriot bills in the coming weeks.

“Congress has a unique opportunity to fix the mistakes they made with the Patriot Act the first time around,” said Lisa Graves, ACLU Senior Counsel for Legislative Strategy. “Unfortunately, the proposals we’re seeing mimic the same flaws of the initial Patriot Act – they continue to place extraordinary powers in the hands of the executive with very diminished oversight by both Congress and the judiciary. Congress should enact modest changes – like the bipartisan Safe Act, which strikes the right balance in securing the nation and protecting our freedoms.”

Both the House Judiciary Committee and Permanent Select Committee on Intelligence meet today to consider the same flawed bill to reauthorize the Patriot Act. The ACLU called for legislation that would protect freedoms, noting that in the aftermath of 9/11, the House Judiciary Committee had initially produced a bipartisan bill, with unanimous support, which was mindful of civil liberties. However, that bill was switched with a measure containing powers long sought by the Department of Justice – and which became the Patriot Act.

The current House proposals would make the expiring provisions of the Patriot Act permanent and include minimal, superficial changes. For example, the bill provides a right to counsel if served with a Section 215 order for medical or other business records: but only a right to counsel to comply with, and not contest, the order. Even the Justice Department has agreed that there needs to be a clear right to consult an attorney to challenge a 215 order. Also, there is no correction to Section 215 to require that there be any facts connecting American’s records to a foreign terrorist before their personal records-medical records, tax records, educational records, and any tangible things-are gathered by the federal government. These are just a few of the significant flaws in these bills.

The Judiciary Committee also considered the Civil Liberties Restoration Act of 2004, a bill that would amend policies that have shortchanged due process protections, restore fairness to the immigration review process, and increase the government’s access to information that may be crucial to preventing future terrorist attacks. The ACLU has endorsed the Civil Liberties Restoration Act.

“The silver lining is that these bills do not seek to needlessly expand the Patriot Act, as other proposals would do,” Graves said. “Lawmakers should support common sense amendments to these bills that would put checks against abuse under the Patriot Act and preserve our fundamental liberties.”

The ACLU’s letter to the House Judiciary Committee on the Patriot Act reauthorization bill can be read at:
/node/24844

For more on the ACLU’s concerns with the Patriot Act, go to:
http://www.reformthepatriotact.org

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