As Senate Judiciary Committee Hears from Government Experts, ACLU Calls for Stringent Oversight of PATRIOT Act

October 21, 2003 12:00 am

Media Contact
125 Broad Street
18th Floor
New York, NY 10004
United States


WASHINGTON – Days before the second anniversary of the signing of the USA PATRIOT Act, the Senate Judiciary Committee today held the first of a series of hearings to examine federal anti-terrorism laws. As key members from the Administration testified before the Committee, the ACLU called upon Congress to ensure that the powers granted to law enforcement are being used properly and to examine their necessity.

“Voices of skepticism are being heard from communities across America and in the halls of Congress,” said Charlie Mitchell, an ACLU Legislative Counsel. “The Justice Department’s attempts to defend the PATRIOT Act have been misleading at best. We now know that civil liberties were exchanged for many powers that were unnecessary and, in many cases, are being used for purposes that have little or nothing to do with terrorism.”

Today’s hearing featured a panel comprised of Christopher Wray, Chief of the Justice Department’s Criminal Division, Department of Justice, United States Attorney Patrick Fitzgerald for the Northern District of Illinois, and United States Attorney Paul McNulty of the Eastern District of Virginia. Later hearings will provide opportunities for advocacy groups to voice their concerns.

There has been growing momentum on Capitol Hill to restore the civil liberties lost through legislation post 9/11. Currently, there are several bi-partisan measures pending in both chambers of Congress that seek to rollback parts of the controversial USA PATRIOT Act that undermine core American freedoms and liberties. In late July, the House of Representatives adopted a measure, with overwhelming bi-partisan support that would prevent the Department of Justice from implementing “sneak and peek” or delayed notification searches.

Senators Larry Craig (R-ID) and Dick Durbin (D-IL) recently introduced the Security and Freedom Enhanced (SAFE) Act of 2003, which amends key parts of the PATRIOT Act and enjoys strong bipartisan support. The SAFE Act limits sneak and peek searches and monitoring of library and other personal records, restores key privacy protections for “roving wiretaps” and expands the PATRIOT Act’s sunset provision. At a press conference last week, Senator Craig, who sits on the Judiciary and Appropriations Committees, vowed to pass the SAFE Act this year.

Across the country nearly 200 communities, including the states of Hawaii, Alaska and Vermont have passed “pro-civil liberties” resolutions, many of which call for corrections to be made to the USA PATRIOT Act. Now, 25.5 million Americans reside in “pro-civil liberties” areas.

“When the Attorney General disclosed that section 215 of the PATRIOT Act – the power to obtain library records – has yet to be used, it begs the question as to why that provision needs to remain on the books,” added Mitchell. “Power unused is still power that has the potential to be abused. Congress must listen to those from across America, conservatives and liberal alike, that are demanding that we be both safe and free.”

Every month, you'll receive regular roundups of the most important civil rights and civil liberties developments. Remember: a well-informed citizenry is the best defense against tyranny.

Learn More About the Issues in This Press Release