ACLU Urges House and Senate to Fix Patriot Act Reauthorization, Says Modest Changes to Protect Constitution Must Be Included Before Passage

February 28, 2006 12:00 am

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WASHINGTON – The American Civil Liberties Union today urged both the House of Representatives and the Senate to adopt modest, but necessary changes before voting on reauthorization of the controversial Patriot Act. The Senate is expected to vote on legislation to reauthorize the 2001 anti-terrorism law on Wednesday; the House is expected to vote on an amendment to their reauthorization bill this week.

“Congress still has the chance to address some of the law’s shortcomings, and it must,” said Caroline Fredrickson, Director of the ACLU Washington Legislative Office. “The debate to better balance Americans’ basic freedoms and security will continue no matter what happens this week. With the National Security Agency’s illegal and warrantless domestic spying program still ongoing, Americans will remain vigilant in their efforts to speak out against President Bush’s authorization of this unconstitutional activity.”

Although cosmetic changes were included in the reauthorization bill, including allowing for challenges to section 215 and an explicit right to counsel, these changes are saddled with pro-administration standards. The ACLU continues to be concerned about broadened scope of secret search powers. Last year, the Washington Post reported that tens of thousands of National Security Letters (NSLs) have been issued by the FBI for Americans’ private records.

Many of the search powers expanded by the Patriot Act can be used in investigations to gather records that are not about suspected foreign terrorists or Americans conspiring with them, allowing the FBI top gather innocent Americans’ financial and internet transactions as well as medical and other sensitive records in “fishing expeditions.” The ACLU expressed hope that crucial amendments to make modest changes to the Patriot Act, sponsored by Senators Russ Feingold (D-WI), Jeff Bingaman (D-NM) and Pat Leahy (D-VT), would be allowed an up-or-down vote.

Support for similar changes have come from a diverse coalition of groups. Since the Patriot Act’s passage, the ACLU has worked with bipartisan allies to bring the legislation in line with the Constitution by restoring much needed checks and balances. Joining the efforts of former Congressman Bob Barr’s Patriots to Restore Checks and Balances, the ACLU stood shoulder to shoulder with the American Conservative Union, Americans for Tax Reform, and others.

Also, over 400 communities nationwide have passed pro-civil liberties resolutions urging Congress to make modest but commonsense reforms to the Patriot Act. Such resolutions have passed in towns from coast to coast and statewide in Vermont, Alaska, Hawaii, Maine, Montana, Idaho, Colorado, and, most recently, California. The total number of Americans represented by these resolutions is nearly 100 million, and the resolutions send a clear message to Congress that ordinary Americans oppose unchecked government power.

“The Patriot Act debate has come a long way, but there is still more that needs to be done to protect the rights of ordinary Americans,” said Lisa Graves, ACLU Senior Counsel for Legislative Strategy. “It is clear that there is building skepticism about the administration’s approach to national security and civil liberties, and the ACLU and its bipartisan allies will continue to speak out in defense of all Americans’ fundamental civil liberties and constitutional rights.”

To read the ACLU’s letter to the Senate urging opposition to the Patriot Act reauthorization bill, go to:
/safefree/general/24170leg20060215.html

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

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