Acting in the name of stopping terrorism, Members of Congress continue to seek expansion of government power despite widespread concern about privacy and protection against government abuse.
Rep. James Sensenbrenner (R- WI) has introduced one such bill (H.R. 3179) that would enhance the government's secret power to obtain personal records without judicial review. It would also limit judicial discretion over the use of secret evidence in criminal cases and allow the use of secret intelligence wiretaps in immigration and possibly other civil cases without notice or an opportunity to suppress illegally acquired evidence.
If passed, this bill would be a major and unwarranted expansion of the government's secret surveillance powers under the USA PATRIOT Act.
Take Action! Urge your Representatives to oppose H.R. 3179!
This legislation would strictly punish Americans for refusing to obey secret ""national security letters"" that allow the FBI to get your personal records without going through a judge. The FBI currently has the secret power to obtain -- without court oversight and without any need to show evidence that the individual is actually involved in criminal activity -- a long and growing list of highly personal records from a wide range of businesses. These can include travel agents, casinos, Internet cafes and credit reporting agencies. This bill provides for criminal penalties for failure to comply with the FBI, or for breaking the strict gag order on the government request. For example, if an Internet cafe owner complained at a local chamber of commerce meeting about a broad FBI national security letter, he could face a prison term under this bill.
Ties judges' hands in preventing the misuse of secret evidence, which cannot be properly challenged by the accused. Today, when prosecutors worry about compromising national security by introducing classified information as evidence in regular trials, they can apply to the judge for permission to submit a summary of the information. The judge has the discretion to consider the government's request in secret or to hold an open hearing. This new legislation would force judges to consider the government's request in secret even if the judge would prefer to hold an open hearing so the accused can properly respond to the accusations.
Broadly expands the use of secret intelligence surveillance as evidence in civil cases. Prosecutors can already use intelligence surveillance in regular courts. However, because the surveillance is gathered without criminal probable cause or other safeguards, they have to give the accused a chance to challenge this evidence (which a judge then reviews behind closed doors to see if it was gathered illegally). If this bill passes, we could see the unfair deportation of innocent, long-term legal residents of the United States because they were unable to challenge the misleading and illegal national security surveillance that was secretly used against them.