Just when it seemed that the Bush Administration's assault on our constitutional protections had begun to subside, Attorney General John Ashcroft has drafted new legislation that further threatens our core civil liberties and rights.
The draft "Domestic Security Enhancement Act" contains a multitude of new and sweeping law enforcement and intelligence gathering powers -- many of which are not related to terrorism -- that would severely undermine basic constitutional rights and checks and balances. If adopted, the bill would diminish personal privacy by removing important checks on government surveillance authority, reduce the accountability of government to the public by increasing official secrecy and expand on the definition of "terrorism" in a manner that threatens the constitutionally protected rights of Americans.
These far reaching powers could apparently be sought even though the first USA Patriot Act already gave the government unprecedented powers to violate our civil liberties and tap deep into the private lives of innocent Americans.
Take Action! Congress must not accept new legislation that threatens our constitutional rights in the name of security against terrorism. In fact, Congress should not only reject any new legislation, but it should instead insist that the Bush Administration stop stonewalling and outline how the new powers already given under the first USA PATRIOT Act have been used.
The new legislation would allow government to spy on First Amendment-protected activities. By applying an overly broad definition of terrorism, organizations using protest tactics such as those used by Operation Rescue or protesters at Vieques Island, Puerto Rico would become victims of criminal wiretapping and other electronic surveillance. In addition, the act would terminate court-approved limits on police spying, which were initially put in place to prevent McCarthy-style law enforcement persecution based on political or religious affiliation.
The new act would radically diminish personal privacy by removing checks on government power. It would permit, without any connection to anti-terrorism efforts, sensitive personal information about U.S. citizens to be shared with local and state law enforcement. In addition, the government could gain secret access to credit reports without consent and without judicial process.
The new bill would increase government secrecy while diminishing public accountability. It would authorize secret arrests in immigration and other cases, such as those involving material witness warrants, where the detained person is not criminally charged. The act would allow for the sampling and cataloguing of innocent Americans' genetic information without court order and without consent. And, incredibly, the act would shelter federal agents engaged in illegal surveillance without a court order from criminal prosecution if they are following orders of high Executive Branch officials.