ACLU Welcomes Hatch's Promise to Examine Patriot Act Corrections Bill; 'Safe Act' Would Preserve Freedom and Provide Security

May 21, 2004 12:00 am

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WASHINGTON – The American Civil Liberties Union today applauded a statement by Senator Orrin Hatch (R-UT), Chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee, that he was open to having his committee examine a bipartisan measure that seeks to bring the Patriot Act back in line with the Constitution while providing law enforcement with the tools needed to combat terrorism.

“The Patriot Act contains only a handful of controversial provisions, and the Safe Act seeks to correct them,” said Laura W. Murphy, Director of the ACLU Washington Legislative Office. “Law enforcement officers deserve to have tools that allow them to keep our country safe, and the American public deserves to have laws in place that protect their privacy and civil liberties. We can, and must, be both safe and free.”

The Senate Judiciary Committee yesterday held an oversight hearing on the FBI, where Hatch said, “I do intend to have a hearing on the SAFE Act. I think my colleagues feel that that’s something that should be done, and Senator Leahy and I will hold that hearing.” The ACLU welcomed the Chairman’s willingness to hold a hearing.

The bipartisan Security and Freedom Ensured (SAFE) Act of 2003 [S. 1709/H.R. 3352], was introduced by Sens. Larry Craig (R-ID), Dick Durbin (D-IL), John Sununu (R-NH) and Russ Feingold (D-WI) – all members of the Senate Judiciary Committee. Of the 19 co-sponsors, Sens. Ted Kennedy (D-MA) and Arlen Specter (R-PA) also sit on the Judiciary Committee. The House companion measure has 61 co-sponsors, and was introduced by Reps. Butch Otter (R-ID), Jeff Flake (R-AZ) and John Conyers (D-MI).

Since the PATRIOT Act’s passage, pressure from all points on the political spectrum has been building in Congress for fixes to several controversial provisions. To date, pro-civil liberties resolutions have passed in 317 communities in 40 states, including four statewide resolutions. These communities represent approximately 51.1 million people who oppose sections of the Patriot Act and call for corrections to be made.

The SAFE Act permanently narrows the hot-button “sneak and peek” provision in the bill, which allows federal agents to search Americans’ homes without notifying them for an indeterminate period. It also addresses arguably the most controversial provision in the bill, section 215, which allows the FBI to obtain Americans’ medical, business, library and even genetic records without probable cause. Specifically, the bill would preclude investigative fishing expeditions by requiring some individualized suspicion that the targets of the order have some connection to a foreign government or organization.

“If we forsake our freedoms to make our country secure, we ultimately fail the American public,” Murphy said. “The potential for government abuse of these intrusive powers remains large, and the Safe Act is an appropriate response to ensure that our freedoms are preserved.”

For more on the ACLU’s campaign to Keep America Safe and Free, go to:

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