Right-Left Call For Modest Corrections to the Patriot Act, Simple Fixes To Bring Controversial Act Back in Line with Constitution

September 22, 2004 12:00 am

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WASHINGTON – The American Civil Liberties Union today renewed its call for corrections to be made to the Patriot Act to bring it back in line with the Constitution, and urged Congress to reject measures that would further expand upon the Act. That sentiment was echoed today by members of the Senate Judiciary Committee – from both parties – and a Republican former member of Congress.

The ACLU has endorsed the bipartisan “Security and Freedom Ensured Act,” (S. 1709/H.R. 3352), sponsored by Senators Larry Craig (R-ID) and Richard Durbin (D-IL), who spoke before their colleagues on the Judiciary Committee. The SAFE Act would make modest, but crucial, changes to the powers granted under the Patriot Act – giving law enforcement access to the tools they need to fight terrorism, but also protecting against abuse of those powers – and expands the Patriot Act’s sunset provisions.

In his testimony before the Committee, former Republican Congressman Bob Barr commented on the SAFE Act, saying that, “I think is an excellent first step in any move to rein in the Patriot Act. It amends certain Patriot Act provisions to add safeguards against abuse, such as some judicial review, and expands the sunset provisions to include other problematic sections that escaped notice in the original bill.” Noting that the SAFE Act would preserve personal freedoms, and is narrowly construed, Barr gave the measure “a passing grade.”

The SAFE Act would permanently narrow the hot-button “sneak and peek” powers, which allow federal agents to search Americans’ homes without notifying them for an indeterminate period. It would also restore key privacy protections for “roving wiretaps.”

Regarding arguably the most controversial Patriot Act provision, section 215, which allows the FBI to obtain Americans’ medical, business, library and even genetic records without probable cause, the SAFE Act would preclude investigative fishing expeditions by requiring some individualized suspicion that the targets of the order have some connection to a foreign government or organization. The ACLU is involved with litigation challenging the constitutionality of that power.

The ACLU also warned against further expansion of the Patriot Act’s powers, noting that a thorough review of the current powers has yet to happen. To date, 356 communities, encompassing nearly 55 million Americans nationwide have passed resolutions asking Congress to revisit the Patriot Act and oppose any further expansion of the law. Support for the SAFE Act comes from a diverse section of groups, including the American Conservative Union and the American Jewish Committee – an organization that had supported the Patriot Act.

“Congress should not expand the Patriot Act without a thorough examination of its effectiveness,” said Laura W. Murphy, Director of the ACLU Washington Legislative Office. “The Justice Department has been less than forthcoming on its use of these new powers, raising questions on what rights have been compromised. We have strong bipartisan support to fine tune the Patriot Act to both give law enforcement the tools they need and protect our fundamental freedoms.”

To read former Member of Congress Bob Barr’s testimony, go to:

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