Six Months After Passage, Anti-Terrorism Law Proves A Threat To Free Expression

PFAW, Free Expression Network Say USA-PATRIOT Act Grants Federal Government Sweeping Powers, Endangering Constitutional Rights

People For the American Way joined with other members of the Free Expression Network and federal lawmakers today to mark the six-month anniversary of the USA-PATRIOT Act and to raise concerns about the law’s impact on constitutional rights. The Free Expression Network released a statement detailing the law’s constitutional failings as well as other recent government actions restricting debate, dissent and the free flow of information.

"As a nation, we need to stand up to terrorists," said PFAW President Ralph G. Neas. "But we must also stand up for our Constitution and democratic principles. The USA-PATRIOT Act and other actions taken by the administration undermine our civil liberties and the constitutional system of checks and balances."

Congress, under pressure from the Department of Justice, took up anti-terrorism legislation just weeks after the Sept. 11 attacks. Attorney General John Ashcroft publicly warned Congress that delay in passing the law might leave the country "susceptible" to additional terrorist attacks. At the time, PFAW urged Congress not to rubber stamp Ashcroft’s demands and to carefully consider how the new law would affect constitutional liberties (see www.pfaw.org/caphill/anti_terror.html). Though Congress did make some improvements to the attorney general’s bill, the USA-PATRIOT act granted law enforcement officials sweeping new powers and failed to adequately protect civil liberties.

"Obviously it was appropriate – indeed, imperative – for public officials to reevaluate and update intelligence and law enforcement policies in light of the Sept. 11 tragedies," said Larry Ottinger, a senior PFAW attorney. "It was not appropriate, and in fact irresponsible for Congress and the president to approve a law that runs roughshod over constitutional rights. It is time now to reconsider whether we are striking the right balance between security and liberty."

Other members of the Free Expression Network to sign on to the statement, which was released at a Capitol Hill press conference, include: American Booksellers Foundation for Free Expression, American Civil Liberties Union, Electronic Privacy Information Clearinghouse, and the National Coalition Against Censorship. The statement can be obtained at http://www.pfaw.org/issues/constitutional_freedoms/patriot_statement_4-02.pdf.

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