Ashcroft's Patriot Act Report to Congress Omits Key Information, ACLU Says
FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
NEW YORK – A report submitted to Congress today by Attorney General Ashcroft on the government’s use of the Patriot Act omits key information and avoids any mention of numerous controversial provisions of the law, the American Civil Liberties Union said.
“President Bush and Attorney General Ashcroft need to spend less time waging public relations campaigns and more time responding to the specific, legitimate concerns of the American people,” said ACLU Executive Director Anthony D. Romero. “It’s astounding that the Attorney General could release a 30-page report on the Patriot Act and never mention some of the provisions that are most controversial.”
The Attorney General’s report, submitted to the House Judiciary Committee, sidesteps the most serious concerns raised by the ACLU and many other organizations and individuals from across the political spectrum.
The ACLU said the Justice Department also continues to inflate its claims of Patriot Act success. Numerous investigative reports have revealed that while the DOJ prosecuted about 180 cases defined as international terrorism, close to half received jail sentences of less than a year and involved low-level immigration offenses.
The report also highlights the fact that the Patriot Act, touted as an anti-terrorism tool, is frequently used in non-terrorism cases.
On specific constitutional rights and civil liberties concerns raised by the ACLU and others, for example, the report avoids mention of key sections of the law that the ACLU and some Members of Congress are attempting to fix, including Section 213, which expanded federal access to so-called “sneak-and-peek” search warrants, and Sections 215 and 505, which allow the FBI access to medical, library, and financial records. Sections 215 and 505 are the subject of pending constitutional challenges brought by the ACLU and others.
The report also sidesteps any mention of the Patriot Act’s use against innocent Americans whose records have been turned over to the FBI, and fails to mention the frequency of intrusive investigations that did not result in prosecutions.
“This report is troubling not only in what it says, but in what it doesn’t say,” said Laura W. Murphy, Director of the ACLU Washington Legislative Office. “It contains no mention whatsoever of some of the sections that Americans find most objectionable. The memo also misrepresents some of the sections that it does discuss.”
The ACLU has filed a series of Freedom of Information Act requests on Patriot Act use that it is now litigating. Members of Congress have also sent oversight letters to the Department of Justice that remain unanswered. In letters that were answered, the DOJ side-stepped critical questions and did not provide responsive answers, even when repeatedly pressed to do so.
“This report is intended to deflect the unanswered questions and to slow down growing congressional and public support to reform the Patriot Act,” Murphy said.
The main Patriot-fix bill supported by conservative and liberals alike – called the Security and Freedom Ensured, or SAFE Act – would simply narrow several of the Patriot Act’s most contentious provisions, requiring greater judicial review and more checks against abuse.
“Nothing in the SAFE Act would have changed any of the outcomes relayed in this report,” Murphy said. “Actually, the SAFE Act would upgrade the Patriot Act so that it is truly promoting both safety and freedom.”
In addition to presenting selective information, the site also contains misinformation on a number of sections of the law:
- The report explains that Section 218 was intended to bring down the “wall” between law enforcement agencies, but there was never any legal restriction on FBI intelligence investigators’ authority to share evidence of criminal activity. Section 218 doesn’t “permit” sharing of information, because sharing was always allowed. This section simply allows the FBI to ignore the Fourth Amendment in a broad class of ordinary criminal investigations.
- The material support provision, which the government defends, criminalizes activity that is protected by the First Amendment. The government tried to use the provision to prosecute a graduate student in Idaho for hosting a listserv on which other people posted political and religious speech. The government is also relying on the provision in its attempt to prosecute a defense lawyer in New York. The DOJ report fails to note that one court has already found the material support provision to be unconstitutional and that a jury recently threw out the Idaho prosecution.
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