- March 4 - Responding to Attorney General John Ashcroft’s appearance
at a Senate hearing this morning, the American Civil Liberties
Union today reiterated its call on Congress to resist passage
of the proposed government surveillance bill known as PATRIOT
is poised on the brink of a dangerous new anti-civil liberties
era, and these escalating bids for expanded government power demand
close scrutiny," said Anthony Romero, Executive Director of the
ACLU, who traveled from the group’s headquarters in New York to
sit in on today’s hearing. "As the people’s representative, Congress
must ask Mr. Ashcroft the tough questions about his actions and
policies that undermine the fundamental values of our democracy."
Judiciary Committee, chaired by Sen. Orrin Hatch (R-UT), convened
the hearing. While no groups or individuals were asked to testify,
the ACLU’s Romero attended in order to hear first-hand the Administration’s
justifications for its programs to spy on Americans. He cited
PATRIOT II and the CAPPS II program, the traveler surveillance
system that became the subject of debate last week after Delta
Airlines announced it would begin testing the system.
about the new airline passenger blacklist known as CAPPS II highlights
the distaste Americans have for government spying," Romero said.
"CAPPS II threatens our liberty, but its security benefits are
far from clear. Like the hastily enacted USA PATRIOT Act, this
program fails to increase safety as it limits our core freedoms."
Romero said, is indicative of the prevailing disregard for fundamental
civil liberties and privacy rights both at the Department of Justice
and in the Bush Administration. The larger implications of the
bill, the ACLU said, include a severe diminishment of basic checks
and balances on the power of the executive branch and a continuing
love affair with untested and likely ineffective security measures
that infringe on basic liberties -- especially personal privacy
and the freedoms of speech, association and religion.
II and CAPPS II are so unpopular that they have drawn the ire
of many right-leaning advocates and media personalities. Last
month, "card-carrying conservative" columnist William Safire called
the PATRIOT II proposal an "abomination," and warned, "Justice's
aim is to avoid judicial or Congressional control."
not accept new legislation that threatens our constitutional rights
in the name of security against terrorism," Romero said. "In fact,
Congress should not only reject any new legislation, but it should
instead insist that the Bush Administration stop stonewalling
and outline how the new powers already given under the first USA
PATRIOT Act have been used."
information on PATRIOT II and other government surveillance programs,
go to www.aclu.org/safeandfree