House Judiciary Committee Members Hear ACLU Concerns on 9/11 Report, Freedom and Privacy Must Guide Any Changes

August 23, 2004 12:00 am

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WASHINGTON – The American Civil Liberties Union today called upon Congress to carefully review the conclusions of 9/11 Commission and to enact measures that preserve civil liberties as it advised lawmakers in a rare summer recess hearing of the House Judiciary Subcommittee on Crime, Terrorism, and Homeland Security.

“The Commission’s report is a sketch – but we have yet to see the final picture,” said Gregory T. Nojeim, Associate Director of the ACLU Washington Legislative Office, who testified before the subcommittee. “As Congress considers the Commission’s recommendations, it must be ever mindful that these changes will have a lasting effect on Americans and steps must be taken to preserve our dedication to freedom and liberty.”

In his testimony before the subcommittee, Nojeim outlined the ACLU’s concerns with some of the 9/11 Commission’s findings and also welcomed the proposed creation of a “Civil Liberties Protection Board,” and urged that this independent watchdog be given powers to have effective oversight and the ability to recommend changes.

Nojeim raised concerns over the proposed national intelligence director to be based in the White House. The NID would consolidate authority over the intelligence community into a person serving at the pleasure of the president – raising the potential for politics, and not security, to guide intelligence programs. Such a move would also make those responsible for domestic surveillance – including the FBI – to report to a “top spy” rather than a “top cop.”

The consolidation of the various intelligence operations could also lead to the Judiciary Committees in both chambers losing oversight powers over domestic intelligence operations, a move that could escalate the misuse of domestic intelligence powers for political ends. The ACLU pointed to the historical examples of Watergate and Filegate as examples of the potential for abuse of any political position that has domestic surveillance powers.

Nojeim also raised concerns over the recommendation that might require a federal mandate dictating standards for drivers’ licenses — a bureaucratic back door attempt to create a national ID card system and a serious threat to privacy, liberty and safety. Racial, religious or ethnic profiling, and illegal discrimination could increase, and failure to carry an ID would become an added pretext for the unwarranted search, detention and arrest of minorities.

Another worry is the Commission’s call for broad expansions of “no-fly” and “automatic selectee” lists. Nojeim called on Congress to ensure that there is some independent review, subject to appropriate security measures, of how someone gets on the no-fly list, and a process for “false positives” to clear their names.

“As Senator Kennedy’s recent troubles show – these watchlists are riddled with misinformation,” Nojeim said. “We should make sure that whatever changes we make are not cosmetic attempts at providing security, and contain real protections for the privacy and freedoms of all Americans.”

The ACLU’s testimony can be read at:
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