Patriot Act Needs Comprehensive Reform, ACLU Testifies
Group Urges House To Adopt Surveillance Law Fixes In Senate’s JUSTICE Act
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WASHINGTON – The American Civil Liberties Union testified before a key House subcommittee today on the need for comprehensive reform of the USA Patriot Act. The ACLU has challenged the Act both in the courts and in the halls of Congress in the nearly eight years since its passage. Three surveillance provisions – the John Doe roving wiretap provision, Section 215 or the “library records” provision and the “lone wolf” provision – are up for renewal this year and will expire on December 31 if Congress does not take action.
The ACLU is seeking comprehensive reform of the Patriot Act and is urging Congress to revisit other surveillance laws expanded in recent years to bring them back in line with the Constitution. The ACLU also urges Congress to pass the JUSTICE Act, a bill introduced in the Senate last week to narrow several provisions of the Patriot Act and other surveillance laws, including the FISA Amendments Act of 2008, by inserting privacy and civil liberties safeguards into each law. The bill was introduced by Senate Judiciary Committee Subcommittee on the Constitution Chairman Senator Russell Feingold (D-WI) and Judiciary Committee Member Senator Richard Durbin (D-IL).
“The Patriot Act has not only been a minefield for Americans’ rights, it also started a steady expansion of many of America’s surveillance laws,” said Michael German, ACLU National Security Policy Counsel and former FBI Special Agent. “In the wake of 9/11, Congress hastily amended and expanded the government’s authority to conduct domestic surveillance without any suspicion of wrongdoing. Congress must now seize the opportunity to bring these laws in line with the Constitution by passing the JUSTICE Act.”
Since it was rushed through Congress just 45 days after September 11, the Patriot Act has paved the way for the expansion of government-sponsored surveillance including the gutting of the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act (FISA) to allow dragnet collection of Americans’ communications. Over the last eight years, numerous expansions of executive authority have worked in tandem to infringe upon Americans’ rights. Only by understanding the larger picture of the combined effects of Patriot Act, the amendments to FISA and other changes to surveillance law can Congress make an informed, consistent and principled decision about whether and how to amend all of these very powerful surveillance tools.
“The Patriot Act fundamentally altered the relationship Americans share with their government,” said German. “By expanding the government’s authority to secretly search our private records and monitor our communications, often without any evidence of wrongdoing, the Patriot Act eroded our most basic right – the freedom from unwarranted government intrusion into our private lives. Put very simply, under the Patriot Act the government now has the right to know what you’re doing, but you have no right to know what it’s doing. The time for Patriot Act reform is long overdue.”
The full Senate Judiciary Committee will be holding a hearing on the Patriot Act Wednesday.
The ACLU’s testimony can be read at: www.aclu.org/safefree/general/41067leg20090922.html
To read the ACLU’s report “Reclaiming Patriotism” and learn more about the three Patriot Act provisions up for expiration this year, go to: www.reformthepatriotact.org
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