Public is denied basic information on use of PATRIOT Act
Washington, DC (May 18, 2005) – The Senate Intelligence Committee has announced that tomorrow’s scheduled mark-up of USA-PATRIOT Act amendments will be closed to the public and the media.
When the USA-PATRIOT Act was passed in October 2001, without hearings or debate, Congress assumed the risk that some provisions would put undue burdens on civil liberties and the privacy of the American people. That is why some of the more extreme provisions in the law are due to sunset by the end of this year if not re-enacted or modified to comport with the Constitution and society’s reasonable expectations of privacy and fairness.
“The PATRIOT Act gave federal authorities a number of emergency powers on a temporary basis, such as those used against Brandon Mayfield and his family,” said Barry Scheck, president of the National Association of Criminal Defense Lawyers. “What happened to Brandon Mayfield, a young lawyer in Oregon with a small civil practice, could happen to any of us. Somehow a latent print on a bag in Madrid got matched with one of his prints in his military records. When the FBI discovered he hadn’t even been out of the country in over a decade, instead of realizing that a mistake may have been made, they assumed that he must have used another identity. They secretly invaded his home, his law office and his computer, and tapped his telephones. They infiltrated his house of worship and followed him everywhere. They eventually arrested him as a material witness and detained him without charging him with a crime. The judge warned him he could face the death penalty. After several weeks, Spanish police convinced the FBI that they had the wrong guy. He wasn’t a terrorist. He was just an ordinary American who became the focus of a massive secret investigation because somebody made a mistake, and his life was turned upside down.”
Kyle O’Dowd, NACDL’s Legislative Director, explained, “Provisions of the PATRIOT Act omit essential checks and balances and are subject to abuse. Sometimes that means an innocent person’s privacy is violated; sometimes it means an innocent person’s reputation, livelihood and life are substantially damaged.”
Other powers due to expire this year include obtaining private records, such as library and medical records; membership lists of organizations, including churches; e-mail headers and Web browsing histories; “roving” wiretaps in foreign intelligence cases; and “data-mining” of public and private records without having to justify the collections with specific and articulable facts.
“The public has been denied basic information about the use of PATRIOT Act authorities,” Scheck said. “The Intelligence Committee should not be aiding and abetting this climate of secrecy by closing its door.”
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