ACLU Documents White House Push To Pass PATRIOT II Piecemeal in Congress

October 8, 2003 12:00 am

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WASHINGTON – Following on the heels of new momentum on Capitol Hill to rollback parts of the controversial USA PATRIOT Act, the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) today released a report detailing how the White House is trying to pass the PATRIOT Act’s unpopular sequel by pushing it through Congress piecemeal.

“The leaked draft of PATRIOT II proved so overwhelmingly unpopular on the Hill – on both sides of the aisle – that the Administration is trying to slip it through under the radar in drips and drabs,” said Timothy Edgar, an ACLU Legislative Counsel and author of the report.

“Congress needs to keep an eagle eye out lest the Bush Administration seize further expanded and unnecessary powers without proper deliberation,” Edgar added.

PATRIOT II – formally known as the Domestic Security Enhancement Act of 2003 – was leaked anonymously to the press in February of 2003 and contains broad expansions to the powers granted in the 2001 PATRIOT Act – as well as several truly radical changes in American law.

Prominent in the report is the so-called VICTORY (Vital Interdiction of Criminal Terrorist Organizations) Act of 2003, which has not been introduced but made waves when its existence in a draft circulated by Senate Judiciary Chairman Orrin Hatch (R-UT) was revealed earlier this summer. Designed to link the war on terror with the war on drugs – and to use broader counter-terrorism surveillance powers in drug investigations – drafts of the VICTORY Act also have nestled in them three provisions that originally appeared in the PATRIOT II leaked draft.

The report also discusses in detail three new bills that correspond to three powers President Bush requested from Congress in a speech last month at the FBI Academy in Quantico. One of these proposed powers – expanded “administrative subpoena” authority – would have the effect of broadening even further the controversial part of the original PATRIOT Act allowing broad access to library and other sensitive records without individual suspicion. These internal subpoenas could also be used to compel testimony from wholly innocent Americans, effectively meaning that the FBI – on its own — could force Americans to answer questions. Under current law, if the FBI wants to force someone to give testimony, a US Attorney has to convene a grand jury.

As the Washington Post editorialized, “This radical new power is unnecessary as well as dangerous. It’s not as though seeking grand jury subpoenas is especially burdensome. Prosecutors don’t need to seek a grand jury’s approval for each subpoena they issue; rather, they often issue them on behalf of the grand juries. Federal rules allow them to keep signed and sealed blank subpoenas for use when necessary.”

“Administrative subpoenas are just the tip of the iceberg,” Edgar said. “There is clearly an organized push in the White House to pass these types of measures that sap liberty and do little to increase safety.”

The ACLU’s report can be found at:

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