MCLU Urges House to Reject Patriot Act Authorization
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Portland – The Maine Civil Liberties Union urges members of Maine’s Congressional delegation to reject Patriot Act reauthorization. Legislation to reauthorize three of the Patriot Act’s expiring provisions including Section 215–the controversial library records provision–is scheduled for a vote in the U.S. House of Representatives as early as today, February 8. The bill will then go to the Senate for a vote.
“The Patriot Act must be fixed to bring it back in line with the Constitution,” said MCLU Legal Director Zachary Heiden. “Congress should vote ‘no’ to reauthorization without meaningful privacy reform.”
Opposition to the Patriot Act is diverse. A coalition including Gun Owners of Maine and the Maine Library Association worked with the MCLU in 2004 to lobby for a resolution in the Maine Legislature opposing the Patriot Act. The legislature, as well as several municipalities, including Bangor, Portland and Mount Vernon, passed resolutions expressing concerns about the privacy implications of the Patriot Act.
The ACLU has sent a letter to Capitol Hill urging members of Congress to vote “no” to reauthorization of the three expiring provisions.
“It is never too late to do the right thing in safeguarding our civil liberties,” said MCLU Executive Director Shenna Bellows. “Congress should review the numerous abuses reported under the Patriot Act and act now to safeguard our precious constitutional rights.”
The ACLU’s recent report, Reclaiming Patriotism, provides more information on parts of the Patriot Act that need to be amended. The three expiring provisions of the Patriot Act give the government sweeping authority to spy on individuals inside the United States, and in some cases, without any suspicion of wrongdoing. All three should be allowed to expire if they are not amended to include privacy protections to protect personal information from government overreach.
* Section 215 of the Patriot Act authorizes the government to obtain “any tangible thing” relevant to a terrorism investigation, even if there is no showing that the “thing” pertains to suspected terrorists or terrorist activities. This provision is contrary to traditional notions of search and seizure, which require the government to show reasonable suspicion or probable cause before undertaking an investigation that infringes upon a person’s privacy. Congress must ensure that things collected with this power have a meaningful nexus to suspected terrorist activity or it should be allowed to expire.
* Section 206 of the Patriot Act, also known as “roving John Doe wiretap” provision, permits the government to obtain intelligence surveillance orders that identify neither the person nor the facility to be tapped. This provision is contrary to traditional notions of search and seizure, which require government to state with particularity what it seeks to search or seize. Section 206 should be amended to mirror similar and longstanding criminal laws that permit roving wiretaps, but require the naming of a specific target. Otherwise, it should expire.
* Section 6001 of the Intelligence Reform and Terrorism Prevention Act of 2004, or the so-called “Lone Wolf” provision, permits secret intelligence surveillance of non-US persons who are not affiliated with a foreign organization. Such an authorization, granted only in secret courts is subject to abuse and threatens our longtime understandings of the limits of the government’s investigatory powers within the borders of the United States. This provision has never been used and should be allowed to expire outright.
The bill being considered by the House today also fails to amend other portions of the Patriot Act in dire need of reform, most notably those relating to the issuance and use of national security letters (NSLs). NSLs permit the government to obtain the communication, financial and credit records of anyone deemed relevant to a terrorism investigation even if that person is not suspected of unlawful behavior. Numerous Department of Justice Inspector General reports have confirmed that tens of thousands of these letters are issued every year and they are used to collect information on people two and three times removed from a terrorism suspect.
More information is available at www.reformthepatriotact.org
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