New York Civil Liberties Union Urges Members of Congress to Support the SAFE Act

Affiliate: ACLU of New York
June 30, 2005 12:00 am


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Opposes Efforts to Extend the Patriot Act

NEW YORK — The New York Civil Liberties Union today urged members of New York’s Congressional delegation to restore basic rights and freedoms by supporting legislation that would reform provisions of the USA Patriot Act that undermine civil rights and civil liberties. The NYCLU also called on lawmakers to oppose legislation that would reinstate sections of the Patriot Act that are scheduled to sunset.

“Congress now has the opportunity to place common-sense limits on the Patriot Act while still providing law enforcement agencies the tools they need to protect our safety,” said Donna Lieberman, Executive Director of the NYCLU . “The Patriot Act is unprecedented in its scope, and its provisions remain largely unexamined by Congress. The debate regarding the sunset provisions offers an opportunity to consider the broader reforms needed to address those permanent sections of Patriot Act that are constitutionally suspect and that sanction overzealous and intrusive law-enforcement practices.”

The NYCLU sent letters to Senator Charles Schumer and Congressman Anthony Weiner of Brooklyn — who, respectively, serve on the Judiciary Committees of the Senate and the House of Representatives — urging them to sign on as co-sponsors to the Security and Freedom Enhancement Act of 2005, which would place important limits on the government’s surveillance powers and access to personal records. The letter also asks the lawmakers to support the Civil Liberties Restoration Act, which would provide minimum due process safeguards to individuals who are jailed on suspicion of immigration violations; end the government’s use of blanket orders that close deportation hearings to the public; and reform the Patriot Act to limit the secret seizure of records.

The NYCLU also urged lawmakers to ensure that the 10 percent of the Patriot Act scheduled to sunset at the end of the year expires as originally envisioned by Congress. When Congress passed the Patriot Act in the weeks immediately following September 11, 2001, it recognized that it was granting broad and unprecedented powers to law enforcement, and that these provisions should be reexamined. The NYCLU urges Congress to seize this opportunity to add judicial, Congressional and public oversight to the Patriot Act.

“The Patriot Act strips New Yorkers of fundamental rights and liberties, and Senator Schumer and Congressman Weiner are in unique positions to influence the future of this misguided legislation,” said Udi Ofer, Project Director of the Bill of Rights Defense Campaign at the NYCLU. “The ball is in their court to stand up for New Yorkers’ civil liberties. We’re waiting for them to act in defense of our rights.”

The NYCLU cited examples of the most troubling provisions of the Patriot Act that are scheduled to sunset. These include a provision that allows the FBI to seize sensitive personal information from individuals when there is no proof of criminal activity (Section 212); a provision that allows criminal investigators to use secret wiretaps when there’s no suspicion of criminal activity (Section 218); and a provision that allows the use of “John Doe” roving wiretaps to monitor the telephone conversations of innocent persons (Section 206).

The SAFE Act has bi-partisan support in both the Senate and the House. Republican Senator Larry Craig introduced it on April 6, 2005, and since then 12 Senators have signed on as co-sponsors, including both Senators from New Jersey. Republican Congressman Butch Otter introduced the same bill in the House. Forty-six Representatives have signed on as co-sponsors, including five from New York. Neither Senator Schumer nor Congressman Weiner is a co-sponsor of the SAFE Act.

In addition to letters sent to Senator Schumer and Congressman Weiner, the NYCLU and its chapters throughout the state will mount a full-scale effort to publicize these issues to other members of the New York Congressional delegation and in various local communities.

In New York City on July 12, the NYC Bill of Rights Defense Campaign, a project of the NYCLU, will hold a rally and news conference in front of the main branch of the New York Public Library. They will be joined by activists, celebrities and other public figures who will use creative and eye-catching techniques to demonstrate their opposition to the most troubling aspects of the Patriot Act.

Information on the Patriot Act and efforts in New York State to prevent its extension or expansion is available online at www.nybordc.org.

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