The American Civil Liberties Union released a comprehensive report today examining widespread abuses that have occurred under the USA Patriot Act, a law that was rushed through Congress just 45 days after September 11. In the almost eight years since the passage of the controversial national security law, the Patriot Act has led to egregious government misconduct.
“From the gagging of our nation’s librarians under the national security letter statute to the gutting of time-honored surveillance laws, the Patriot Act has been disastrous for Americans’ rights,” said Caroline Fredrickson, Director of the ACLU Washington Legislative Office. “In the panic following the events of 9/11, our nation’s lawmakers hastily expanded the government’s authority to a dangerous level and opened a Pandora’s box of surveillance.”
The American Civil Liberties Union’s report, “Reclaiming Patriotism,” authored by policy counsel Michael German and legislative counsel Michelle Richardson, was delivered to congressional offices on Capitol Hill, as well as posted to the newly re-launched site www.reformthepatriotact.org. The report is being released in anticipation of the upcoming congressional debate surrounding three Patriot Act provisions due to expire on December 31, 2009. The ACLU has been working within the halls of Congress and the courts to introduce Patriot Act reform legislation. In December of 2008, as a result of an ACLU lawsuit, the gag order contained in the Patriot Act’s National Security Letter (NSL) provision was struck down.
“Reclaiming Patriotism” reveals that in the years since its passage, the Patriot Act has paved the way for the expansion of government-sponsored surveillance including the gutting of the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act (FISA) and a recent revamping of the Attorney General Guidelines to allow law enforcement to conduct physical surveillance without suspicion. Indeed, over the last eight years, numerous expansions of executive authority have worked in tandem to infringe upon our rights. Only by understanding the larger picture of the combined effects of Patriot Act, the amendments to FISA, the guidelines for physical surveillance and other expansions of power can Congress make an informed, consistent and principled decision about whether and how to amend all of these very powerful surveillance tools.
“The fallout we’ve seen from the Patriot Act being rushed through the legislative process is a dramatic example of the dire need for proper and deliberative congressional oversight,” said Fredrickson. “Congress should use this year’s Patriot Act reauthorization as an opportunity to reexamine all of our surveillance laws. Our lawmakers have, over time, built a massive surveillance mechanism bit by bit. Now is the time take it apart, examine each piece and develop wiser policies.”
To read the ACLU’s report “Reclaiming Patriotism” and learn more about the three Patriot Act provisions up for expiration this year, go to: www.reformthepatriotact.org