ACLU Demands Truth From Justice Department; New Report Details False Claims About Scope, Impact of PATRIOT Act

July 9, 2003 12:00 am

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WASHINGTON — The American Civil Liberties Union today said that it has found a consistent pattern of factually inaccurate assertions by the Department of Justice in statements to the media and Congress, statements that mischaracterize the scope, potential impact and likely harm of the now-notorious USA PATRIOT Act.

The ACLU’s findings were released this morning in a special report that contrasts the Justice Department’s assertions about the USA PATRIOT Act with the language of the Act itself, and in some cases contrasts the Justice Department’s public statements with language from internal Justice Department memoranda that the ACLU was able to obtain through a Freedom of Information Act request. The report – “”Seeking Truth From Justice”” – cites about a dozen specific instances in which Justice Department and other law enforcement officials misrepresented the scope or impact of the USA PATRIOT Act.

“”If the Justice Department wishes to convince the American people and their elected representatives that it carries the Constitution with it at all times during its prosecution of the war on terror, it must be conscientious with the truth,”” said Laura W. Murphy, Director of the ACLU Washington Legislative Office.

“”That the department and its allies would repeatedly misrepresent the scope and nature of new surveillance powers is troubling, to say the least,”” said Ann Beeson, ACLU Associate Legal Director.

Specific instances of what the ACLU termed the Attorney General’s legal version of “voodoo economics” include:

  • The Justice Department’s repeated assertion that the USA PATRIOT Act’s surveillance provisions cannot be used against U.S. citizens. In fact, the surveillance provisions are applicable to citizens and non-citizens alike. Some of the surveillance provisions can be used even against citizens who are not suspected of espionage, terrorism, or crime of any kind.
  • The Justice Department’s repeated assertion that Section 215 of the Patriot Act, which permits the government to demand that any organization – including a library, bookstore, or hospital – turn its records over to the FBI, cannot be invoked unless the government can show “”probable cause.”” In fact, the law contains no such restriction. Section 215 requires only that the government declare that the records are “”sought for”” an ongoing investigation. The “”sought for”” standard is an extremely lenient one, and it bears no resemblance to “”probable cause.”” That the standard is so low is especially troubling in light of the Attorney General’s recent acknowledgement (at a June 2003 Congressional hearing) that the FBI could use Section 215 to obtain not only library and bookstore records but also computer files, educational records, and even genetic information.

The “”Seeking Truth From Justice”” report can be found at:

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