ACLU Urges Lawmakers to Enact "Common Sense" Fixes to Patriot Act In Appearance Before the House Intelligence Committee
ACLU Urges Lawmakers to Enact “Common Sense” Fixes to Patriot Act In Appearance Before the House Intelligence Committee
FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
WASHINGTON – The American Civil Liberties Union appeared today before the House Permanent Select Committee on Intelligence in a public oversight hearing on the Patriot Act and renewed its call for changes to bring the 2001 anti-terrorism measure in line with the Constitution.
“Common sense changes must be made to the Patriot Act to restore our freedoms,” said Timothy H. Edgar, ACLU Policy Counsel for National Security, who appeared before the committee. “The government must not be given a blank check for law enforcement powers under the notion of ‘fighting terrorism.’ It’s time to restore the freedoms we have lost – not further trample on them.”
The committee is in a unique position to consider the merits of the act, as many of the Patriot Act’s controversial powers are cloaked in secrecy. Several key provisions of the Patriot Act are set to expire at the end of the year, and in both chambers of Congress, multiple hearings are being held to examine the Patriot Act.
On the other side of the capitol, the Senate Intelligence Committee is set to meet next week behind closed doors to rush forward a markup of Patriot Act reauthorization legislation. The ACLU has criticized the secretive process, which marks the first legislative action taken on Patriot Act reauthorization. Worse still, the legislation would likely give law enforcement controversial new powers that would go beyond what the Patriot Act already authorizes.
Among the controversial provisions of the Patriot Act is section 215, which gives law enforcement the ability to access the records of medical offices, libraries, gun stores, banks and other businesses, with minimal judicial review. The order for these records is issued by a secret court, based merely on a certification by the government that the records are “sought for” a national security investigation: once the government certifies this, the judge is required to issue the order. These orders contain an automatic and permanent gag order.
The Justice Department has already disclosed that section 215 has been used at least 35 times since its enactment. However, the department will not disclose how it was used, and if other, pre-Patriot Act powers could have been used to obtain the same information.
The ACLU has repeatedly called for moderate changes to be made to the Patriot Act to ensure that tools needed to prevent terrorism do not sweep in personal information about innocent Americans. The ACLU has endorsed the bipartisan Safe Act that would make modifications to some Patriot Act powers to restore proper checks and balances.
“Americans want to be both safe and free,” said Edgar. “Congress must cut through the secrecy. The Patriot Act went too far, too fast, and must be amended to protect freedom.”
The ACLU’s testimony before the House Permanent Select Committee on Intelligence can be found at:
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