PATRIOT Act Not Ready to be Made Permanent, ACLU of Illinois Tells Lawmakers

Affiliate: ACLU of Illinois
April 9, 2003 12:00 am

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CHICAGO – The sweeping powers granted to federal law enforcement as part of the USA PATRIOT Act should not be made permanent until the Congress and the American public have an opportunity to understand fully the scope of their use by the U.S. Department of Justice, the American Civil Liberties Union of Illinois said today.

Responding to a report in this morning’s New York Times, the ACLU of Illinois asked the state’s two United States Senators to resist any rush to judgment about making permanent provisions of the sweeping law enforcement bill that are scheduled to expire, or “sunset,” at the end of 2005. According to this morning’s report, the Bush Administration and certain members of the United States Senate are considering moving legislation as early as this week that seeks to make these new powers permanent.

“The expansive nature of these new powers led many legislators and many Americans to support the USA PATRIOT Act only if some of these provisions contained sunset provisions, set to expire in 2005,” the ACLU letter said. “The purpose of the sunset provision was to allow Congress and the public to review and consider whether these provisions are effective or have been abused to intrude unnecessarily into the lives of persons in the United States before they are made permanent.”

The ACLU of Illinois noted in its letter, signed by Executive Director Colleen Connell, that Congress has been denied an adequate opportunity to evaluate the Department of Justice’s use of the broad new powers in the USA PATRIOT Act because the Bush Administration has been reticent to share with Congress information about how is has exercised new authority broadly granted in the legislation.

Congress adopted the USA PATRIOT Act after a short and hurried debate following the terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001. The legislation gave a number of new powers to federal law enforcement agencies to investigate possible terrorist conspiracies and other criminal activities.

The Act included provisions:

  • granting law enforcement officials new ability to conduct telephone and Internet surveillance with minimal judicial oversight;
  • expanding the ability of federal law enforcement officials to conduct secret searches;
  • granting the FBI broad access to sensitive medical, financial, mental health and educational records without any evidence that an individual is involved in terrorism or criminal activity – access that does not require a search warrant;
  • extending the ability of domestic law enforcement agencies to investigate U.S. citizens;
  • allowing the use of the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act to circumvent probable cause requirements necessary in criminal cases; and
  • creating a broad new definition of “domestic terrorism” that could lead to the investigation and prosecution of persons engaged in acts of political dissent.

The ACLU of Illinois also noted that the ability to determine how the powers of the PATRIOT Act have been implemented is made more difficult by the Bush Administration’s “demonstrable obstinacy” in sharing information about how the provisions are being implemented. The letter notes, as examples, the Justice Department’s reluctance to share information about the number of investigations involving electronic surveillance initiated under the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act, the number of so-called “sneak and peek” warrants executed, and how often federal law enforcement officials have requested information from libraries and bookstores about customer records and purchases.

“There is ample time between today and the end of 2005 for Congress to conduct meaningful oversight hearings of the Justice Department and make considered decisions about the extension of the authority and power contained in the USA PATRIOT Act,” the ACLU said.

The ACLU of Illinois letter to Senators Durbin and Fitzgerald is online in PDF format at

For more information on the USA PATRIOT Act, go to /cpredirect/17343

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