Lee County Commissioners Asks Attorney General John Ashcroft to Modify Portions of the USA PATRIOT Act that Violate Civil Liberties

Affiliate: ACLU of Florida
November 20, 2003 12:00 am

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FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE FORT MYERS — The Lee County Board of County Commissioners voted unanimously Tuesday to send a letter to President George Bush, Attorney General John Ashcroft and leaders of Congress, voicing their concerns and criticism of the controversial anti-terrorism bill — the USA PATRIOT Act — that was rushed through Congress just 45 days after the September 11 terrorist attacks.

Commissioners in this historically conservative community of nearly 500,000 residents drafted the letter in response to a proposed resolution critical of the USA PATRIOT Act. The campaign in support of the pro-civil liberties resolution was led in-part by activists with the Lee County Chapter of the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) of Florida

The letter calls on the President, Attorney General and Congress to look closely at the actual words, details and implementation of the bill.

“We are specifically concerned with the possible violation of privacy, violations of private property, secret courts, sneak and peak, the lack of habeas corpus, and in general we are concerned about a shadowy, unchallengeable police state,” the letter reads. “The scenario of “big brother” and “1984” could be chilling.”

“To have our county government take this stand, in very conservative Lee County, shows that there is growing concern among people all over this country – liberal and conservative, Republican and Democrat – that we don’t have to sacrifice our freedoms in order to remain safe and free,” said John Szymonik, President of the Lee County Chapter of the ACLU of Florida.

“I know we are in a time of war; still, we never, ever want to violate our Bill of Rights,” added Commissioner Andrew Coy, who drafted the letter on behalf of the county commissioners of Lee County. The quiet retirement town received national attention following visits in the past three weeks by President Bush and Vice President Cheney.

The USA PATRIOT Act, which was hastily passed shortly after the September 11, 2001 terrorist attacks, expands the ability of law enforcement agencies to conduct secret searches, gives them wide power to research computer hard drives and enter homes and businesses without proper judicial oversight and allows FBI agents to investigate American citizens for criminal matters without probable cause of a crime if they say it’s merely for “intelligence purposes.”

“This completely misnamed USA PATRIOT Act is the most vicious attack on our United States Constitution and Bill of Rights in the history of our great country,” Szymonik said. “It is wrong, we know it, our commissioners know it, and now Mr. Bush and Mr. Ashcroft will hear it.”

The League of Women’s Voters helped lead the lobbying effort to pass a pro-civil liberties resolution. “I think that getting this message to the powers that be, relaying this message to the President, is very important,~ said Lee County League of Women’s Voters President Carol Barclay.

At Tuesday’s commission meeting, chambers were packed with anti-PATRIOT Act petitioners, including Barclay, Szymonik and 20 other speakers pushing for a resolution. Two Lee County residents testified in favor of the USA PATRIOT Act.

“This was like an American History class today,” Commissioner Coy said to the audience. “You really came prepared.”

“We are very proud of our commissioners for hearing the will of the people of Lee County and taking this stand,” Szymonik said.


TO: President George W. Bush, the United States Senate, United States House of Representatives and Attorney General John Ashcroft.

Re: Patriot Act

Dear Public Servant:

There has been much debate, discussion and dissertation concerning the Patriot Act. We realize that the Patriot Act was passed immediately following the September 11th attack so as to keep Americans secure and safe. We understand it is the federal government’s responsibility to fight global terrorism and keep American citizens free from harm.

We are, however, concerned deeply with the details of the Patriot Act. We are concerned that some of the actual words and implementation of the Patriot Act might actually violate some of the Bill of Rights. We are specifically concerned with the possible violation of privacy, violations of private property, secret courts, and sneak and peak, the lack of habeas corpus and In general we are concerned about a shadowy, unchallengeable police state. The scenario of “big brother” and “1984” could be chilling.

We know that all of you are trying your best to both protect us and keep us free. We believe this can be done without violating basic tenants of our Bill Of Rights. We are humbly, but passionately asking all of you as public servants andas protectors of the United States Constitution, to please make sure the Patriot Act is true to our Constitution and if it is not, change immediately those provisions of the Patriot Act that violate our historical freedoms and our civil liberties.

Respectfully submitted,

The Lee County Board of County Commissioners

Chairman John Albion
Vice Chairman Douglas St. Cerny
Commissioner Andrew Coy
Commissioner Robert Janes
Commissioner Ray Judah

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