Washington DC, April 7, 2004 - Responding to a shell shocked American public, the United States Congress passed the USA PATRIOT Act (Uniting and Strengthening America by Providing Appropriate Tools Required to Intercept and Obstruct Terrorism Act) on October 25, 2001, just 45 days after the tragedy of September 11. The PATRIOT Act promises "to deter and punish terrorist acts in the United States and around the world, to enhance law enforcement investigatory tools, and for other purposes."
Among the broad provisions outlined in the Patriot Act are increased and undeterred surveillance of suspected terrorists, interruption of the flow of financial holdings suspected to fund terrorist activities, and apprehension and detention of suspected terrorists, which aim to give the Justice Department special jurisdiction to more effectively fight the war on terror.
Despite its intentions, the PATRIOT Act has become a bÍte-noir among proponents of civil liberties who are appalled at what they describe as its draconian measures. The American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) argues that "Many parts of this sweeping legislation take away checks on law enforcement and threaten the very rights and freedoms that we are struggling to protect. For example, without a warrant and without probable cause, the FBI now has the power to access your most private medical records, your library records, and your student records.
Now, over two years since its passing into law, the PATRIOT Act has found itself under fire from the very lawmakers that almost unanimously voted it into law. Lawmakers and special interest groups that believe that many provisions in the PATRIOT Act undermine civil rights have ventured on a legislative conquest to repeal the controversial bill. Two bills in particular, one which has already been formally introduced in the House and Senate and another awaiting full markup, directly address what the bills proponents describe as Justice Department excesses manifested in the PATRIOT Act.
The Security and Freedom Ensured Act of 2003 (SAFE Act), jointly introduced in the House and Senate (H.R. 3352 and S. 1709) late last year, seeks to limit the use of surveillance equipment and search warrants by the federal government. The SAFE Act has attracted a bipartisan coalition backing its passing into law. Some of its supporters include the American Civil Liberties Union, Gun Owners of America, American Library Association, Free Congress Foundation, and the American Conservative Union. The SAFE Act has also attracted the Justice Department's attention. In a letter to Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman Orrin G. Hatch (R-UT) and other senators, Attorney General John Ashcroft said President Bush's "senior advisers will recommend that it be vetoed" if the SAFE Act was sent to the White House in its present form, according to the Washington Times.
The Civil Liberties Restoration Act (CLRA), the other major piece of legislation calling for a rollback in the PATRIOT Act, is expected to be jointly introduced in the House and Senate in the last week of April this year. Unlike the SAFE Act, which is mainly concerned with surveillance issues stipulated in the PATRIOT Act, CLRA promises a broader repeal of the PATRIOT Act. Among other supposed shortcomings and failings being addressed by CLRA are the Justice Department's apprehension and detaining of immigrants for prolonged periods on the basis of their ethnicity and creed, and jurisdiction to secretly seize all private databases, including library, medical and credit card records, without any proof of a relationship to a suspected terrorist or to terrorist or criminal activity.
Some provisions being discussed for inclusion in CLRA include: 1) establishing an independent immigration court, 2) elimination of harsh penalties for minor technical infractions such as failure to report a change of address within 10 days and other registration requirements, 3) ensuring that immigrants arrested and detained are charged within 48 hours and are given fair bond hearings, and 4) ending blanket arrests and limitation of closed hearings. CLRA currently has only senior Democratic support on the Hill. The Senate version is expected to be introduced by Senator Edward Kennedy (D-MA) and is expected to be introduced in three to four weeks. The House version is expected to be introduced by Reps. Howard Berman (D-CA) and Bill Delahunt (D-MA). NIAC will provide more information on this bill when it is introduced.
The National Iranian American Council is a Washington, DC-based non-profit educational organization promoting Iranian-American participation in American civic and political life. For more information, please visit www.niacouncil.org, email NIAC at firstname.lastname@example.org or send a fax to 202-518-6187. NIAC is a 501 (c)3 non-profit organization. All donations to NIAC are tax-deductible.
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