The announced compromise deal reached this week regarding the reauthorization of the USA PATRIOT Act failed to address key concerns regarding civil liberties and government overreaching. People For the American Way President Ralph G. Neas expressed his disappointment in senators’ failure to protect Americans’ rights to privacy and liberty.
“This is a missed opportunity to make desperately needed reforms in the PATRIOT Act, and for the Senate to play a crucial role in our system of checks and balances” said Neas. “Unfortunately, it appears that too many senators have decided to accept the unacceptable rather than stand up for the rights of ordinary Americans against unnecessary government intrusion. This deal means that the government can continue to legally demand your library and hospital records, even if you did nothing wrong.”
Among other major concerns, the compromise version of the bill fails to substantively reform Section 215 which allows federal agents to demand records from libraries, bookstores, hospitals and other businesses after meeting an unacceptably low standard of evidence. According to the text of the legislation, the government can continue to conduct such a search without presenting any evidence that the target is suspected of wrongdoing. People For the American Way has urged Congress to raise the standard in order to protect the privacy of innocent Americans.
“In light of Attorney General Gonzales’ recent testimony on the Bush Administration’s illegal warrantless wiretapping program, the American public has no reason to believe that the government will exercise restraint in its behavior. At a time when the administration has shown it’s willingness to bend and even break the law, it’s unconscionable that the Congress should fail to require real judicial oversight. This is part of a systematic attack on Americans’ freedoms,” said Neas.
Neas urged members of Congress to support other legislation, like the SAFE Act, that protects the nation’s security while safeguarding our basic freedoms. Neas also encouraged Congress to hold additional hearings on the NSA spying program and renewed its call for a special prosecutor to be appointed to investigate the program.