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ACLU overview of new Surveillance Powers

by ACLU Thursday, Oct. 18, 2001 at 3:26 AM

On September 19, only eight days after the tragic terrorist attacks on New York and Washington, the Bush Administration unveiled its proposed Anti-Terrorism Act (ATA). These passed the house and the senate with only symbolic debate. Below are the ACLU's 5 major concerns. For a chart detailing all the changes please go to the website.

The ACLU has five overall concerns about the surveillance provisions of the legislation which is expected to be signed into law by the pResident:

* They would reduce or eliminate the role of judges in ensuring that law enforcement wiretapping is conducted legally and with proper justification. There is no reason why the requirement to get a court order for surveillance should slow down the investigation of suspects for which there is evidence of terrorist activities.

* They would dangerously erode the longstanding distinction between domestic law enforcement and foreign intelligence collection, which protects Americans from being spied upon by their own intelligence agencies, as happened during the Cold War.

* The definition of "terrorism" is too broad, permitting the special surveillance powers granted in this legislation to be applied far beyond what is commonly thought of by the term. Under the definition proposed by the Administration, even acts of simple civil disobedience could lead organizations such as People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals (PETA) to become targets of "terrorist" investigations.

* Many of the expansions in surveillance authority being considered are not limited to even the broad definition of terrorism investigations.

* The Congress is moving unnecessarily and irresponsibly quickly on these measures. It takes a great deal of time to deal with complex issues such as how to apply wiretap law to the Internet, and to think through all the possible unintended consequences of legislative language. Few of the provisions being discussed are needed for the current terrorism investigations, so Congress should take the time to do it right.

Security and civil liberties do not have to be at odds. Law enforcement authorities already have great leeway under current law to investigate suspects in terrorist attacks - including broad authority to monitor telephone and Internet communications. In fact, under current law, judges have rejected only three federal or state criminal wiretap requests in the last decade.

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