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by Matt Ehling
Friday, Nov. 15, 2002 at 5:54 PM
The Senate is poised to vote on the establishment of the Homeland Security Agency. Many versions of the bill have circulated through congress, all containing different provisions. Because of the rapidly approaching Senate vote, it is important to contact your Senator this week, and urge them to vote for specific provisions of a House version of the bill - HR 5005.EH - that include crucial civil liberties protections. Also, urge them to vote against any provision that would authorize the creation of the “Total Information Awareness System” now funded by the Defense Advanced Research Project Agency.
The Senate will soon vote on the creation of the Homeland Security Agency, which will consolidate domestic security departments from the INS to the Coast Guard into one centralized federal agency. Many versions of the bill have circulated over the past few months, all with differing provisions. While most of these provisions deal with bureaucratic restructuring of various security agencies, one version of the bill passed by the House (HR 5005.EH) includes specific provisions that deal with important civil liberties issues. These provisions prohibit the implementation of the T.I.P.S. citizen informant network proposed by the Bush administration, create an office of civil rights and civil liberties within the new agency, and uphold the Posse Commitatus Act, which keeps the military out of civilian law enforcement.
Stalled for months before the elections, the agency is on the brink of becoming a reality after the Senate votes next week. Because of this, it is important to contact the Senate to urge them to retain the most important provisions of HR 5005.EH.
It is equally important to urge the Senate to disallow any provisions in the bill that would authorize the creation or utilization of the “Total Information Awareness System” currently funded by the Defense Advanced Research Project Agency. This is a massive electronic surveillance program that would search for patterns of “terrorist activity” in reams of public and private computer data and records. All information about U.S. citizens available through public and private sector records would be analyzed by this system.
Senate contact information can be found at thomas.loc.gov.
In am writing in reference to the Homeland Security Agency legislation currently being debated by congress. The creation of the Homeland Security Agency would constitute the single largest restructuring of the federal government since World War Two. The powers vested in, and the resources commanded by this agency would be enormous. Because of this, I am writing to urge your careful consideration of the bills that seek to create this agency.
Many pieces of legislation have passed before congress regarding this matter, each with its own specific provisions. I am writing to urge you to take special note of the most important of these provisions, and to make certain that these provisions are included in the final bill. These provisions are crucial to ensuring that civil liberties protections, and notions of restraint, are adhered to by the newly created agency. The provisions I refer to currently exist in HR 5005.EH, passed by the House of Representatives, and I have identified them below by the subsection numbers of that bill:
Section 604. Establishment of an office of civil liberties and civil rights. The creation of this office is a crucial step toward ensuring that civil liberties will be recognized by department employees. Furthermore, in the event that citizen rights are violated by department employees, this office will provide an avenue through which citizens can seek recourse.
Section 766. Military activities. This subsection prohibits the Homeland Security agency from engaging in war fighting activities, or from participating in the “military defense of the United States.” This subsection rightly recognizes the historical separation of civilian and military functions within the United States, and it keeps the newly created department from participating in military activities. This distinction between military and civilian affairs is crucial to a free society, and must be strictly adhered to.
Section 780. Reaffirming the continued importance of the Posse Commitatus Act. This section reaffirms the Posse Commitatus Act as it currently stands. This is a crucially important component of the bill to preserve, as the Bush administration has recently intimated that it may seek to review or amend the act in the near future.
The Posse Commitatus Act prohibits the U.S. armed forces, specifically the Army, Navy and Air Force, from engaging in civilian police work. While previous administrations have riddled the Act with exemptions, it is important that Congress takes no further steps toward normalizing a law enforcement role for the military - a role it is ill suited for.
Section 771. This subsection prohibits the implementation of the T.I.P.S. program. The T.I.P.S. program was introduced by the Bush administration earlier this year, and called for the creation of a nationwide informant network that would utilize postal carriers, utility workers, and other public and private sector employees with access to private homes. These individuals would be encouraged to engage in informal espionage, and to report suspicious activities to law enforcement authorities. After widespread public outcry over the potential for privacy violations, the plan was shelved by the administration. This provision would ensure that T.I.P.S would not be revived and implemented.
In addition to the items above, the final bill should insist on civil service protections for agency workers, so that they are not subject to capricious firing or other retaliatory actions.
Finally, I urge you to disallow the addition of any provisions authorizing the creation or implementation of the “Total Information Awareness System”. This program, currently being researched and funded by the Defense Advanced Research Project Agency (DARPA) is a massive electronic surveillance program that would search for patterns of “terrorist activity” in reams of public and private computer data and records. All information about U.S. citizens available through public and private sector records would be consolidated and analyzed by this system, effectively abolishing the privacy rights of American citizens.
Again, I urge you to take these matters into consideration when you vote on the final version of the Homeland Security Agency Bill.
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