Bipartisan Legislation Would Fix Worst Parts of Patriot Act While Maintaining Key Law Enforcement Powers

April 5, 2005 12:00 am

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WASHINGTON – New bipartisan legislation that will be introduced tomorrow would bring some of the most extreme provisions of the Patriot Act back in line with the Constitution, the American Civil Liberties Union said. The bill would restore checks and balances on federal domestic spying powers and narrow several controversial Patriot Act provisions.

“This critical legislation is introduced as bipartisan opposition to some of the worst Patriot Act provisions is growing both inside and outside of Congress,” said Gregory T. Nojeim, Associate Director of the ACLU Washington Legislative Office. “As the Senate and House Judiciary committees hold hearings to examine what liberties we’ve lost since 9/11, lawmakers should remember that this remedy is at hand.”

The Security and Freedom Enhancement (SAFE) Act was announced at a news conference held today by Senators Larry Craig, a Republican from Idaho, and Richard Durbin, a Democrat from Illinois.

The ACLU said that most of the voluminous Patriot Act is actually unobjectionable from a civil liberties point of view and added that the law makes important changes that give law enforcement agents the tools they need to protect against terrorist attacks. A few provisions, though, unnecessarily trample civil liberties, and must be revised to bring them in line with the Constitution. To that end, the Safe Act would:

* Scale back the government’s authority to seize personal information– credit reports, communications records and financial information — through National Security Letters without judicial review. A federal court recently found the NSL statute applicable to Internet Service Providers unconstitutional because of its “unparalleled level of secrecy and coercion.” The Safe Act gives the recipient the right to ask a court to limit the request and protect privileged information. It also places limits on gag order restrictions.

* Narrow the “sneak and peek” provision in the Patriot Act, which allows federal agents to get court authorization to search Americans’ homes without notifying them for weeks or even months.

* Refine section 215, which allows the F.B.I. to obtain a rubberstamp court order giving it access to Americans’ medical, business, library and even genetic records without probable cause. The bill would preclude investigative fishing expeditions by requiring some individualized suspicion.

Last week, Montana became the fifth state to pass a resolution critical of the Patriot Act as its state legislature passed one of the most strongly worded resolutions to date. Resolutions have passed in nearly 400 communities representing nearly 60 million people.

“Legislators in communities all across America have fixes to the Patriot Act in mind, and we applaud these U.S. senators for the same focus,” Nojeim said. “Both the left and right want to make sure the Patriot Act keeps us safe and free, and this legislation is a critical first step.”

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