Issues of Concern

The Patriot Act

This law provides for indefinite imprisonment without trial of non-U.S. citizens whom the Attorney General has determined to be a threat to national security. The government is not required to provide detainees with counsel, nor is it required to make any announcement or statement regarding the arrest. The law allows a wiretap to be issued against an individual instead of a specific telephone number. It permits law enforcement agencies to obtain a warrant and search a residence without immediately informing the occupants, if the Attorney General has determined this to be an issue of national security. The act also allows intelligence gathering at religious events.

There has been strong criticism of the act on the grounds that parts of it violate the Constitution and endanger civil liberties. The American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) alleges that its search and detention provisions violate the Fourth Amendment. Some say that the act's secret warrants resemble the general warrants which were one reason the colonists fought theAmerican Revolutionary War.

Critics also say the law was passed without serious review in a climate of fear, and that it represents a reactionary agenda that has little to do with the 9/11 attacks. They note that there were unsuccessful attempts to pass similar laws, such as the Methamphetamine Anti-Proliferation Act of 2000, long before 9/11.

Supporters of the law argue that terrorist acts may result in the loss of thousands or millions of lives, so waiting until after the fact to hunt the perpetrators down would be a deadly mistake. They admit that the law may result in some rights abuses, but point out that the most basic civil right is the right to live without perpetual fear. They further argue that, unless the Supreme Court rules otherwise, the law is constitutional.

Candidates for the Democratic Party nomination for the U.S. presidential election, 2004 were united in condemning the act as it was applied by then Attorney General John Ashcroft. However, of these, only Ohio Congressman Dennis J. Kucinich actually voted against it (in the House of Representatives).

Three states (Hawaii, Alaska and Vermont) and 220 cities (including Eugene, Oregon and Cambridge, Massachusetts) have passed resolutions condemning the Patriot Act for attacking civil liberties. Arcata, California is the first city to pass an ordinance that bars city employees (including police and librarians) from assisting or cooperating with any federal investigations under the PATRIOT Act that would violate civil liberties. The Bill of Rights Defense Committee is helping coordinate local efforts to pass resolutions. Pundits question the validity of these ordinances, noting that under the Constitution's supremacy clause, federal law overrides state and local laws.

The act is 342 pages long and amends over fifteen statutes.

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Bills to Limit the Patriot Act

US Senate

On July 31, 2003, Senators Lisa Murkowski (R-AK) and Ron Wyden (D-OR), introduced the "Protecting the Rights of Individuals Act" (S. 1552) [1]. This bill would revise several provisions of the Patriot Act to increase judicial review. For example, instead of PEN/Trap warrants to track internet-usage being based on the claims of law-enforcement, they would be based on "specific and articulable facts that reasonably indicate that a crime has been, is being, or will be committed, and that information likely to be obtained by such installation and use is relevant to the investigation of that crime." However, the Protecting the Rights of Individuals Act doesn't address the portion of Sec. 216 of the Patriot Act which allows unnamed-persons to be subject to a PEN/Trap warrant based on law-enforcement certifying that those individuals should have been named.

US House of Representantives

On September 24, 2003, Congressman and Democratic Presidential Candidate Dennis Kucinich (D-OH), Co-Chair of the Progressive Caucus, introduced legislation into the US House of Representatives to repeal more than ten sections of the Act. The bill, titled the "Benjamin Franklin True Patriot Act", repeals sections of the USA PATRIOT Act that authorize sneak and peek searches, warrantless library, medical, and financial record searches, and the detention and deportation of non-citizens without meaningful judicial review. Beyond the PATRIOT Act, the bill cements the fundamental right ofAttorney/Client Privilege and restores transparency in the Department of Justice and Department of Homeland Security by revoking FOIA secrecy orders, along with other important provisions.

Read the Patriot Act.