Patriot Act Abuses and Misuses Abound, ACLU Says; Disclosure Comes Before Congress Begins Review of Controversial Law

April 4, 2005 12:00 am

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WASHINGTON – A day before Congress begins its oversight of the controversial Patriot Act, the American Civil Liberties Union today responded to an inquiry by Senator Dianne Feinstein (D-CA) about abuses of the Patriot Act, saying that the Patriot Act has been abused and misused repeatedly by the government since its enactment.

“Despite the secrecy that permeates the Patriot Act, it’s clear that it has been abused and misused,” said Anthony D. Romero, ACLU Executive Director. “The government has committed these transgressions without apology or regret and has simultaneously sought to expand the powers granted under the Patriot Act. As Congress reviews the Patriot Act, we hope that it will fully examine these abuses and act to ensure that our civil liberties and privacy are not unnecessarily curtailed under the guise of national security.”

“Although the Department of Justice has not been forthcoming, some abuses have seen the light of day,” Romero added. “It is quite likely that there are many more abuses being kept hidden from the American public and Congress. Such secrecy is abhorrent to our rule of law.”

Both the Senate and House Judiciary Committees are expected to hold oversight hearings on the Patriot Act this week. Lawmakers will only hear from administration officials at these inaugural hearings, and the ACLU has asked that members question Attorney General Alberto Gonzales and FBI Director Robert Mueller about the abuses and misuses of the Patriot Act.

According to reports, the Patriot Act has been used to:

  • Secretly search the home of Brandon Mayfield, a Muslim attorney whom the government wrongly suspected, accused and detained as a perpetrator of the recent train bombing in Madrid.
  • Charge, detain, and prosecute a Muslim student in Idaho, Sami al-Hussayen, for providing “material support” to terrorists because he posted to an Internet website links to objectionable materials, even though such links were available on the websites of a major news outlet and of the government’s own expert witness in the case.
  • Serve a National Security Letter (NSL) on an Internet Service Provider (ISP) so coercive under the provisions of the NSL statue that a federal court struck down the entire statute – as vastly expanded by the Patriot Act – used to obtain information about e-mail activity and web surfing for intelligence investigations.
  • Gag that ISP from disclosing this abuse to the public, and gag the ACLU itself, which represents the ISP, from disclosing this abuse to the public when ACLU became aware of it, and from disclosing important circumstances relating to this abuse and other possible abuses of the gag, even to this very day.
  • Investigate and prosecute crimes that are not terrorism offenses, even though it cited terrorism prevention as the reason Congress should enact the law, and cites terrorism prevention as the reason why it cannot be changed.

The ACLU noted that some of these powers were available to law enforcement before 9/11, but that they were vastly strengthened or broadened by the Patriot Act. The expansions made by the Patriot Act facilitated each abuse.

As Congress reviews the Patriot Act, the ACLU said that the lack of disclosure from the Department of Justice on the use of the Patriot Act remains alarming. The stonewalling of the Department has drawn Congressional rebuke as well. Last week, Senators Jon Kyl (R-AZ) and Feinstein, the Chairman and ranking member of the Senate Judiciary Subcommittee on Terrorism, Technology and Homeland Security released a bipartisan report on national efforts to protect against terrorism, noting the lack of disclosure from the Justice Department.

The report stated, “Requests to the Department of Justice to provide a comprehensive report assessing the effect and efficacy of the sixteen provision of the Patriot Act subject to “sunset” remain unfulfilled. Such a report is a critical element in the Subcommittee’s, and indeed the entire Committee’s, responsibility to provide meaningful oversight before determining whether to change the law with respect to these provisions.”

The ACLU pointed to growing bi-partisan concerns over the Patriot Act. Last month, the ACLU joined forces with several conservative organizations under the umbrella group, Patriots to Restore Checks and Balances, to urge Congress and the administration to fix the most extreme provisions of the Patriot Act. Members include former Congressman Bob Barr, Americans for Tax Reform, the American Conservative Union and others.

Nationwide, pro-civil liberties resolutions have passed in 375 communities in 43 states, including the state legislatures of Alaska, Hawaii, Vermont , Maine and Montana. Most of the resolutions call upon Congress to bring the Patriot Act back in line with the Constitution. These communities represent approximately 56.2 million people.

“Our findings show that our concerns about the Patriot Act are not raising ‘phantoms of lost liberty’ – they are genuine fears,” said Gregory T. Nojeim, associate director of the ACLU Washington Legislative Office. “The sales pitch of the Bush administration is that the Patriot Act is needed to protect the country from terrorists. But the truth is that the act has been abused, and been used often for investigations of crimes that are not terrorism. The Patriot Act must be modified to give law enforcement the tools it needs and to preserve our commitment to privacy and freedom.”

The ACLU’s letter to Senator Feinstein is available at:

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