Final 9/11 Commission Report Does Not Call for Patriot Act Search Powers Expansion, ACLU Says Congress Must Take Steps to Better Balance Security and Liberty

December 5, 2005 12:00 am


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WASHINGTON – The American Civil Liberties Union today welcomed the final report of the 9/11 Public Discourse Project, noting that the successor organization to the 9/11 Commission did not call for a further expansion of the Patriot Act. Congress is currently working to pass legislation to reauthorize provisions of that law that are scheduled to “sunset,” or expire, at the end of this year.

“Congress must take note that the findings do not call for a further erosion of the Bill of Rights by expanding the Patriot Act,” said Caroline Fredrickson, Director of the ACLU Washington Legislative Office. “Indeed, the 9/11 Commissioners’ main concerns with the Patriot Act focused on distribution of funding for homeland security. As Congress works to reauthorize and hopefully fix the Patriot Act, we urge lawmakers to take steps to ensure that America is both safe and free.”

In a final “report card” issued by the 9/11 Public Discourse Project, the former 9/11 Commission gave the “balance between security and civil liberties” a B grade, noting that “The debate surrounding reauthorization of the PATRIOT Act has been strong, and concern for civil liberties has been at the heart of it. Robust and continuing oversight, both within the Executive and by the Congress, will be essential.” The ACLU agreed that while debate on the issues has been strong, oversight and disclosure by the government on the use of the Patriot Act has remained inadequate and certainly does not warrant such a grade.

For example, in recent weeks, it has been discovered that the FBI has issued tens of thousands of National Security Letters (NSLs), a secretive power expanded by the Patriot Act to gather private records about Americans without any connection between the records sought and suspected foreign terrorist. These NSLs are issued unilaterally by the FBI — without the approval or review of independent judge– and can now be used to obtain some of our most private and sensitive records, including Internet and financial transactions.

The final report also slammed the lack of steps taken to create a strong and functional Privacy and Civil Liberties Oversight Board and the implementation of guidelines for the government sharing of personal information. Both of these measures were included in the legislation that restructured the nation’s intelligence agencies.

The Commissioners also noted that the government has failed to improve airline passenger pre-screening. The ACLU and its allies from across the political spectrum have had strong objections and concerns with the proposed Secure Flight screening program, noting that it would unnecessarily intrude on the privacy of air passengers without enhancing security.

The report card also touched on the issue of the standardization of secure identification cards. Early this year, Congress approved the REAL ID Act, which imposes federal standards on state identification documents. The ACLU and other privacy advocates noted that this created a de facto national ID card that would threaten the privacy of innocent Americans facilitate government surveillance of their activities.

“Too many of the steps taken since 9/11 only give a false sense of security and create a true threat to civil liberties,” Fredrickson added. “Without substantive corrections as well as meaningful oversight and –better transparency and disclosure– America will be ceding our Bill of Rights to fear.”

To read the final report of the 9/11 Public Discourse Project, go to:
http://www.9-11pdp.org/press/2005-12-05_report.pdf

To read more about the ACLU’s concerns with the Patriot Act, go to:
http://www.reformthepatriotact.org

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