ACLU Urges Congress to Reject Bush Call to Make Patriot Act Permanent

January 20, 2004 12:00 am

Media Contact
125 Broad Street
18th Floor
New York, NY 10004
United States


WASHINGTON — Reflecting deep public discontent with anti-terrorism legislation adopted in the weeks after 9/11, the American Civil Liberties Union tonight urged Congress to reject President Bush’s request that Congress make permanent controversial provisions of the USA Patriot Act.

“In his State of the Union address, President Bush once again preyed on Americans’ fears and insecurities to justify extending the controversial USA Patriot Act,” said Anthony D. Romero, ACLU Executive Director.

“The sunset provisions of the Patriot Act that President Bush now wishes to override were designed to give Congress an opportunity in 2005 to see if the law was keeping America both safe and free,” Romero said. “Amidst mounting criticism of the Act from Republicans and Democrats alike, Congress must not abdicate its responsibility and cave in to the President once again.”

“While much of the Patriot Act is neutral legislation for civil liberties, it contains about a dozen provisions that simply go too far,” Romero added. “These dangerous provisions increase the chances that innocent Americans will be swept into terrorism investigations by removing traditional checks and balances on law enforcement and oversight powers from the judiciary.”

Among the provisions of the Patriot Act scheduled to sunset is the controversial Section 215, which allows the FBI to obtain orders for the production of any “tangible things” (which can include library, travel, genetic, health, business or firearms records) without any meaningful standard of judicial review and no mechanism for the person affected to challenge the order.

This provision has been challenged by the ACLU in a federal lawsuit as violating Americans’ First, Fourth and Fifth Amendment rights. Last year, Attorney General John Ashcroft said Section 215 has not been used, raising the question of why the Bush Administration believes such sweeping law enforcement powers are essential for the war on terrorism.

About 240 governing bodies — including the state legislatures of Hawaii, Alaska and Vermont — encompassing over 30 million people in 37 states, have passed anti-Patriot Act resolutions, some of which contain strong prohibitions against racial profiling or local police enforcing federal immigration laws. Participating communities range in size and political inclination from tiny conservative North Pole, Alaska and Carrboro, North Carolina, to Chicago, Philadelphia, Baltimore, Detroit and San Francisco.

Federal lawmakers, including several notable Republicans, have also bucked the White House in introducing and supporting measures that narrow or modify overbroad Patriot provisions. Congressman Butch Otter (R-Idaho) has introduced legislation to repeal portions of the Patriot Act. He was joined by over 100 Republicans who also voted for the repeal.

Even former Speaker of the House Newt Gingrich wrote an op-ed late last year in the San Francisco Chronicle taking the Justice Department to task for its aggressive use of the Patriot Act in non-terrorism-related cases.

“As we strive to protect our country, we must remember to uphold the very freedoms we seek to protect,” Romero said. “In the aftermath of 9/11 many liberties were curtailed, but now, millions of Americans are demanding that freedom be restored to keep America both safe and free.”

For more on the ACLU’s campaign to Keep America Safe and Free, go to:

Every month, you'll receive regular roundups of the most important civil rights and civil liberties developments. Remember: a well-informed citizenry is the best defense against tyranny.

The Latest in National Security

ACLU's Vision

The American Civil Liberties Union is a nonprofit organization whose mission is to defend and preserve the individual rights and liberties guaranteed to every person in this country by the Constitution and laws of the United States of America.

Learn More About National Security

National Security issue image

The ACLU’s National Security Project is dedicated to ensuring that U.S. national security policies and practices are consistent with the Constitution, civil liberties, and human rights.