Librarians, Gun Owners and Civil Libertarians Come Together

Affiliate: ACLU of Maine
October 8, 2009 12:00 am

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Today, as the Senate Judiciary Committee marks up reauthorization of the USA PATRIOT Act, a diverse group of Maine organizations from across the state called upon the Maine Congressional delegation to support reform of the Patriot Act. The groups include the Maine Library Association, Sportsman’s Alliance of Maine, the League of Women Voters of Maine, the Maine Council of Churches, the NAACP – Portland Branch, and the Maine Civil Liberties Union among others.

“It’s time to fix the Patriot Act to bring it back in line with the United States Constitution,” said George Smith, Executive Director of the Sportsman’s Alliance of Maine. “Congress should place limits on Patriot Act privacy violations like secret searches of American homes and surveillance of private telephone conversations. Sportsmen understand the importance of each of our constitutional rights.”

The coalition letter calls on Congress to increase protections for communications such as phone calls and email, provide reasonable safeguards for sensitive records, and respect the privacy of homes and businesses.

“The First Amendment guarantees freedom of expression, and librarians feel that applies also to the government not watching what you are reading,” said Sonja Plummer-Morgan, President of the Maine Library Association, and a resident of Presque Isle. “We hope Patriot Act reform ensures patron privacy and other civil liberties.”

Maine municipalities including Bangor, Mount Vernon, Orono, Portland, and Waterville passed resolutions calling for Patriot Act reform in the years immediately following enactment of the law. The Maine State Legislature passed a resolution in 2004 calling on Congress to fix the Patriot Act.

“The Patriot Act fundamentally changed our First Amendment and Fourth Amendment rights to privacy,” said Shenna Bellows, Executive Director of the Maine Civil Liberties Union. “It’s time for Congress to carefully review Patriot Act abuses and reform those provisions which infringe upon our constitutional rights.”

When Congress reauthorized the Patriot Act in 2006, it established new expiration dates for two Patriot Act provisions, sections 206 and 215. Section 206 authorizes “roving wiretap” orders from the secret Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court when a target uses multiple communications devices. Unlike roving wiretaps used in ordinary criminal investigations, Section 206 wiretaps do not require the order to identify either the name of the subject under surveillance or the communications device to be tapped. The Maine coalition is calling on Maine’s Congressional delegation to support amendments that would require FISA wiretap orders to identify either the person or place to be tapped.

Section 215 allows the government to get a secret FISC order demanding “any tangible thing,” and the government is not required to show the court that the request pertains to a person who is actually under FBI investigation. Moreover, a gag order prohibits the recipient of a Section 215 order, such as a librarian, from disclosing to anyone that they have received such a request. The Maine coalition calls on Congress to put in place a requirement that government requests for information relate to terrorists or those in communication with them. The coalition further calls on Congress to provide a meaningful opportunity for recipients of Section 215 orders to challenge the request and the gag order in court.

“Unfortunately, the reauthorization process has not yet included any meaningful changes to the Patriot Act to address our privacy and due process concerns,” said Shenna Bellows, Executive Director of the Maine Civil Liberties Union. “It is not too late for the Maine Congressional delegation to take leadership on the issue of Patriot Act reform to ensure American’s civil liberties are protected.”

The Senate Judiciary Committee began mark up of a Patriot Act reauthorization bill on October 1. It continues its deliberations today. Once the bill has been voted on by the Senate Judiciary Committee, it will go to the full Senate for a vote. The complete list of organizational signatories is: Maine Civil Liberties Union, Immigrant Legal Advocacy Project, League of Women Voters of Maine, Maine Association of Criminal Defense Lawyers, Maine Council of Churches, Maine Gun Owner’s Association (MGOA), Maine Library Association, NAACP – Portland Branch, Peace & Justice Center of Northern Maine, and the Sportsman’s Alliance of Maine (SAM).

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