Maine Civil Liberties Union Demands Truth From Justice Department

Affiliate: ACLU of Maine
April 17, 2003 12:00 am

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PORTLAND, ME — In a move reflective of the ongoing controversy over the government’s expanded powers under the USA PATRIOT Act, the Maine Civil Liberties Union yesterday sent a letter to the Maine Congressional delegation urging them to request that the Department of Justice publicly correct false statements made about the USA PATRIOT Act and asking that the Congressional members take a closer look at the government’s powers under the Act.

The Justice Department’s remarks were issued in response to the Calais Free Library’s efforts to warn its patrons that it could no longer guarantee that the books they read and Internet sites they visit would remain private.

“”The Calais Free Library took a courageous stand against over-the-top provisions in the USA PATRIOT Act,”” said Louise Roback, Executive Director of the Maine Civil Liberties Union. “”Now it’s time for Maine’s Congressional delegation to insist that the Justice Department publicly correct its misrepresentations of the USA PATRIOT Act and to undertake a thorough re-examination of the law.””

The MCLU letter to Sens. Olympia Snowe and Susan Collins and Reps. Tom Allen and Michael Michaud refers to comments made by Mark Corallo, a Justice Department spokesman, to the Bangor Daily News where he claimed that under Section 215 of the USA PATRIOT Act – a bill passed with little debate in the weeks after 9/11 – the FBI cannot get the library records of US citizens without demonstrating “”probable cause”” that the person is a foreign spy or terrorist.

In reality, however, the USA PATRIOT Act gives federal law enforcement agencies new powers to require such records be turned over — even if law enforcement does not have “”probable cause”” that the target of a search was involved in a crime. Additionally, contrary to the Justice Department’s claims, the provision in question, Section 215, removes the probable cause standard for U.S. citizens and non-citizens alike.

The Calais library is not alone in its concerns. Elsewhere in Maine, libraries are hosting public forums to discuss the USA PATRIOT Act and encouraging patrons to read George Orwell’s 1984. At the national level, both the American Booksellers Foundation for Free Expression and the American Library Association have endorsed the Freedom to Read Protection Act of 2003, introduced by Rep. Bernie Sanders (I-VT), which would restore probable cause requirements for library records requests.

The MCLU letter said that the Justice Department’s misstatements are misleading and asks the Maine Congressional delegation to ensure that the Justice Department responds to such concerns with a full and truthful disclosure of what new powers are granted the government under the USA PATRIOT Act and how it is using them.

“”If the Justice Department wants to convince the general public that it is using its expansive new policing and spying powers responsibly, it must be more careful with the facts in its public statements,”” states Tim Edgar, Legislative Counsel for the Washington office of the American Civil Liberties Union. “”Deliberately or accidentally, the Justice Department’s false comments shield the government from true accountability.””

The Maine Civil Liberties Union’s letter can be seen at:

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