Ashcroft Makes Rare Appearance Before Senate Oversight Committee; ACLU Warns Against New Patriot Act Measures

June 8, 2004 12:00 am

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WASHINGTON – As the Senate today convened an oversight hearing on the Department of Justice’s anti-terrorism efforts, with Attorney General John Ashcroft testifying in a rare appearance, the American Civil Liberties Union warned of adopting measures that would further compromise freedom.

“Mr. Ashcroft has pursued a wrongheaded policy of eroding civil liberties in the name of national security,” said ACLU Executive Director Anthony Romero. “This is a false dichotomy – we can have both security and liberty. Congress has the responsibility and the unique opportunity to ask Ashcroft the tough questions about his actions and policies that undermine the fundamental values of our democracy.”

Attorney General Ashcroft last appeared before the Senate Judiciary Committee on March 4, 2003. Since that time, the ACLU noted that the Department of Justice has been less than forthcoming on how it has used the vast array of powers at its disposal. Due in part to that lack of disclosure, and given the potential for abuse of anti-terrorism powers, various bi-partisan efforts have been introduced to bring the Patriot Act back in line with the Constitution.

The ACLU said that a draft bill – the Domestic Security Enhancement Act – or “Patriot Act 2,” which expanded on existing powers expanded by the Patriot Act, met its demise after floating around Capitol Hill last year. However, some of the provisions contained in that measure are now being introduced piecemeal in other legislative vehicles.

One such measure, H.R. 3179, would increase the government’s powers to secretly obtain personal records without judicial review, limit judicial discretion over the use of secret evidence in criminal cases, eliminate important foreign intelligence wiretapping safeguards and allow the use of secret intelligence wiretaps in immigration cases without notice or an opportunity to suppress illegally acquired evidence.

To date, more than 325 American communities, encompassing more than 51.6 million Americans in 41 states, have passed local resolutions asking Congress to revisit the Patriot Act and oppose any further expansion of the law and call for corrections to be made to bring the Patriot Act back in line with the Constitution.

One such measure is the bipartisan Security and Freedom Ensured (Safe) Act of 2003 [S. 1709/H.R. 3352], and was introduced by Sens. Larry Craig (R-ID), Dick Durbin (D-IL), John Sununu (R-NH) and Russ Feingold (D-WI) and Reps. Butch Otter (R-ID), Jeff Flake (R-AZ) and John Conyers (D-MI). The Safe Act would provide law enforcement with tools to engage in anti-terrorism efforts, while protecting individual freedom and privacy.

“Congress should flat out reject any legislation that further limits our constitutional rights under the guise of fighting terrorism,” said Laura W. Murphy, Director of the ACLU Washington Legislative Office. “We must insist that the Administration lift its cloak of secrecy and disclose how the Patriot Act and other powers have been used – and possibly abused. Now is the time for freedom to be restored – not further curtailed.”

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

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