House Hearing Follows Revelation of Patriot Act Flaws and Uses, ACLU Says Disclosure Represents Likely "Tip of the Iceberg"

April 6, 2005 12:00 am

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House Hearing Follows Revelation of Patriot Act Flaws and Uses, ACLU Says Disclosure Represents Likely “Tip of the Iceberg”


WASHINGTON – Following yesterday’s Senate hearing on the Patriot Act that provided ample evidence that it was passed with undue haste, the American Civil Liberties Union today called upon the House Judiciary Committee to probe deeper into the implementation – and possible abuses of – the controversial 2001 anti-terrorism law. Attorney General Alberto Gonzales is testifying before that panel in an oversight hearing today.

“We learned more in three hours yesterday than in the past three months,” said Gregory T. Nojeim, Associate Director of the ACLU Washington Legislative Office. “The Attorney General admitted that the Justice Department is increasingly using Patriot Act powers- and not just for terrorism cases. His admission of its use in the Mayfield case is the clearest evidence yet of Patriot Act abuse, and is likely just the tip of the iceberg.”

This week’s panels before the Senate and House Judiciary Committees are the first in a series of hearings on the Patriot Act, parts of which will expire by the end of the year without Congressional reauthorization. In the three years since the law’s passage, a growing, bipartisan group of conservative and progressive critics have called on Congress to revise certain troubling parts of the law.

The Security and Freedom Enhancement (SAFE) Act, a bipartisan bill that would bring some of the most extreme provisions of the Patriot Act back in line with the Constitution, was unveiled yesterday. That legislation, sponsored by Senators Larry Craig (R-ID) and Richard Durbin (D-IL) would restore checks and balances on federal domestic spying powers and narrow several controversial Patriot Act provisions.

Such changes are much needed, the ACLU said. Yesterday’s Senate hearing highlighted how the use of the Patriot Act’s secret search and surveillance authority has grown in recent years. Gonzales admitted, for instance, that the government has used section 215, the “library records” provision, 35 times since September 2003. According to former Attorney General John Ashcroft, it had not been used before then.

The ACLU expressed deep concern, however, with the clearest indications yet of Patriot Act abuse, evidenced in the Brandon Mayfield case. Last year, the FBI falsely implicated Mayfield, an attorney from Oregon, as a suspect in the Madrid bombing case. Gonzales admitted that the FBI used the Patriot Act – which made an intelligence law easier to deploy in criminal cases — to secretly search his home.

“We hope that Chairman Sensenbrenner and all members of the committee will dig deeper into the disclosures that were made yesterday,” Nojeim said. “The Mayfield case is but one example of how unchecked government powers can dramatically compound federal investigative errors and result in serious civil liberties abuses.”

The ACLU’s letter on how the Patriot Act has been abused and misused is available at:

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