FYI: ACLU Challenges U.S. Anti-Terrorism Law
- ACLU Challenges U.S. Anti-Terrorism Law
Wednesday 30 July 2003
DETROIT - The American Civil Liberties Union filed a lawsuit
against the federal government on Wednesday aimed at curbing the
vastly expanded spy powers won under the anti-terrorism law passed
soon after the Sept. 11 attacks
The suit, filed in federal court in Detroit on behalf of six Arab-
American groups, targets a key provision of the USA Patriot Act that
gives the FBI more leeway to conduct domestic surveillance.
``This lawsuit is the first legal challenge to the USA Patriot Act,
passed shortly and with almost no public debate after the terrorist
attacks of September 11th," said Kary Moss, director of the Michigan
chapter of the ACLU.
``The Ashcroft administration has launched a war on all of us by
strategically trying to cut back the protections of the Bill of
Rights," she said at a news conference.
Attorney General John Ashcroft, who has described the Patriot Act
as a critical weapon in the war declared by President Bush after the
attacks on the Pentagon and World Trade Center, is a defendant in the
ACLU suit along with FBI Director Robert Mueller.
Under Section 215 of the Patriot Act, which the lawsuit challenges
as unconstitutional, the FBI can secretly search and seize records,
books, papers or other personal belongings of practically anyone,
without a warrant and without showing probable cause.
The agency can also impose a lifelong ``gag" order prohibiting
anyone served with Section 215 orders -- aimed for example at getting
information about a suspect's medical history, reading habits,
political activities or religious affiliation -- from telling someone
else about the
Section 215 Defended
A Justice Department spokesman in Washington said it would have no
immediate comment about the ACLU's lawsuit. But the department later
issued a statement defending Section 215, saying it could only be
used to conduct a narrow set of investigations.
``It should be noted that criticism of Section 215 frequently
ignores what the provision actually includes," said Justice
Department spokeswoman Barbara Comstock.
The ACLU's lawsuit was filed just a week after the Republican-
controlled U.S. House of Representatives voted overwhelmingly to roll
back another key provision of the Patriot Act. And Moss said more
than 143 cities across the nation have now passed local resolutions
against the Patriot Act in what she described as a groundswell of
opposition to ``the
government's war on the Bill of Rights."
Mary Rose Oakar, head of the Arab-American Anti-Discrimination
Committee that is one of the six plaintiffs in the ACLU case, noted
that Arabs and Muslim-Americans have been the primary target of the
FBI's counter-terror measures after Sept. 11.
But at the news conference at the ACLU's headquarters in Detroit,
which is home to a large Arab-American community, Oakar said the
``chilling effects of the Patriot Act could happen to anyone" and
warned against the erosion of U.S. civil liberties.
``This is an un-American, unconstitutional act. It must be
challenged to protect the basic rights of the people of the United
States of America," she said.
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