Despite New Compromise, ACLU Says Patriot Act Debate Far From Over, Pledges to Continue to Work With Bipartisan Allies For Meaningful Changes

February 16, 2006 12:00 am

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WASHINGTON – With a vote to reauthorize the expiring provisions of the Patriot Act all but certain, the American Civil Liberties Union today pledged to continue to work with its bipartisan allies – from across the political spectrum – to reform the anti-terrorism law passed in haste immediately after 9/11. The Senate is expected to renew the Patriot Act without making the most needed changes to protect freedom and privacy, after passing a related bill that would make a few changes to the conference report passed by the House last December.

“The Patriot Act debate is far from over, and we will continue to fight for reforms to protect civil liberties,” said Caroline Fredrickson, Director of the ACLU Washington Legislative Office. “While Congress failed to adopt much-needed reforms to the law to better protect freedom and privacy, lawmakers also rejected pressure from the White House to include significant and unwarranted expansions of government power. We applaud those fair-minded lawmakers that have fought to bring the law in line with the Constitution, and together, we will continue to push for reforms to keep America safe and free.”

A year ago this week, President Bush called on Congress to quickly make the Patriot Act’s expiring provisions permanent and add new provisions that further undermine our civil liberties. The ACLU- through its affiliates, members, and activists – worked to ensure there would not be a repeat of 2001 when secret search powers were greatly expanded at the president’s request with little public or congressional debate. Through these efforts with allies from the right and left, the ACLU supported civil libertarians in Congress from both sides of the aisle in achieving a success that many people thought was impossible when the Patriot Act passed just four years ago and last year, especially with the public relations campaign for reauthorization orchestrated by the White House.

Through these efforts, the national conversation has changed from simply acquiescing to whatever the president wants to how we can better protect the civil liberties of ordinary Americans while fixing anti-terrorism tools. At the end of 2004, almost 300 percent more House Members voted against the flawed reauthorization legislation than in 2001 and a bipartisan group of 52 Senators joined together to oppose passing that legislation without more time to debate it and try to fix it to address the concerns that have been raised.

The current reauthorization bill would make explicit the right to counsel and the right to challenge an order under Section 215 of the Patriot Act, but does not expressly provide a right to challenge an order for being unreasonable or trampling on privileged communications between attorneys and their clients or doctors and their patients. Many other Patriot Act powers would remain in the law, without key modifications. The ACLU continues to be concerned about the lack of changes to the “sneak and peek” search warrant power – the vast majority of which are being used in routine criminal investigations – and otherprovisions.

The ACLU noted that in the four years since the Patriot Act’s passage, public opinion has shifted in the national debate over the Patriot Act. More than 400 communities nationwide, including seven states, have passed pro-civil liberties resolutions calling for meaningful changes to be made to the Patriot Act. Lawmakers flatly rejected the “Domestic Security Enhancement Act,” the so-called “Patriot Act 2,”as well as the unwarranted proposals by the administration last year to create vastly expanded FBI subpoena powers without any court approval at all.

“As disappointing as the deal to end the current debate on the Patriot Act is, we are heartened that lawmakers, from both sides of the aisle, have pledged to continue to push for meaningful Patriot Act reforms,” said Lisa Graves, ACLU Senior Counsel for Legislative Strategy. “True patriotism means standing up for the protections enshrined in the Constitution, no matter who is president. The White House’s take it or leave it approach to this legislation is disrespectful to the millions of Americans who want this legislation fixed with common sense reforms. We will continue to fight for these reforms. And we will ultimately prevail.”

To read the ACLU’s letter to the Senate on the Patriot Act reauthorization bill, go to:

For more on the ACLU’s concerns with the Patriot Act, go to:

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