Bush to Promote Patriot Act in New York, Pennsylvania; ACLU Urges Congress to Resist Calls to Make Law's Problems Permanent

April 19, 2004 12:00 am

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WASHINGTON – On the eve of President Bush’s trips to Pennsylvania and New York, during which he is expected to promote the USA Patriot Act and ask that its “sunset” provisions be removed, the American Civil Liberties Union renewed its call today for reconsideration of the law in Congress and urged lawmakers to fix the act and bring it back in line with the Constitution.

“Rather than addressing the real reasons behind national security failings in America, President Bush continues to argue that we must sacrifice liberty for security,” said Laura W. Murphy, Director of the ACLU Washington Legislative Office.” By overemphasizing the Patriot Act, the president is attempting to deflect criticism of a culture of secrecy that flourished in the nation’ s intelligence agencies, which arguably led to 9/11.”

Since its passage, the Patriot Act has been the center of a national debate. Several of the most controversial provisions, including section 215, which diminished judicial oversight of secret foreign intelligence surveillance court orders, are set to sunset in 2005, and will require Congressional approval to stay on the books. Crucially, the vast majority of provisions, including Section 213, which allows agents to search peoples’ homes without notifying them until much later, do not sunset at all.

President Bush, however, is expected to call on Congress to remove all of the sunsets, making the entirety of the law permanent. Congress must resist such overtures, the ACLU said, and should re-examine those sections of the law that are at the center of the public controversy.

Nationwide, 282 communities – including the state legislatures of Alaska, Hawaii, Vermont and Maine – have passed resolutions calling for changes to the Patriot Act. Nearly 49 million Americans now live in a jurisdiction that has adopted such a resolution, jurisdictions ranging dramatically in size, political inclination and geographic location.

In Pennsylvania – where President Bush will speak on Monday — six communities have passed resolutions, including Philadelphia; in New York State, where the president travels on Tuesday, 20 communities, including New York City, have weighed in on the Patriot Act.

On Capitol Hill, the Safety and Freedom Ensured, or SAFE, Act, a bipartisan, bicameral bill sponsored originally by Senators Larry Craig (R-ID), Dick Durbin (D-IL) and Rep. Butch Otter (R-ID), has been introduced. The SAFE Act is a set of modest reforms designed to amend the most egregious provisions of the Patriot Act while still providing law enforcement with the tools needed to combat terrorism. Sen. Arlen Specter (R-PA) is also a co-sponsor of the SAFE Act, as are eight Members from New York and Pennsylvania.

Prominent conservatives, including former member of Congress Bob Barr, former House Speaker Newt Gingrich and Wayne LaPierre, Executive Vice President of the NRA, have also criticized the Patriot Act. In addition to the ACLU, conservativ e organizations including the American Conservative Union, American for Tax Reform, the Eagle Forum, the Free Congress Foundation and Gun Owners of America support the SAFE Act.

“Both inside and outside the Washington Beltway, conservatives and liberals are united in their concern over civil liberties,” Murphy added. “Two years after its passage, many look at the Patriot Act and realize that it went too far, too fast. Now is the time for careful deliberation, examination and fine-tuning — not the blanket reauthorization that the president demands.”

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