Massachusetts Town Becomes 300th Jurisdiction to
Denounce Patriot Act
tiny Martha's Vineyard hamlet of Tisbury, Massachusetts, this week
became the 300th local or state government to denounce the USA Patriot
Act, even as President George W. Bush was campaigning for Congress
to make the Act permanent before its expiration next year.
voters Tuesday joined New York, Los Angeles, and Chicago
the country's three biggest metropolises among others in
approving a resolution condemning provisions of the Act as threats
to basic civil liberties.
The city councils of Pittsburgh and El Paso approved similar resolutions
earlier in the week.
As of Thursday, the 300 local and municipal jurisdictions
including the states of Alaska, Hawaii, Maine, and Vermont
that have passed such measures represent more than 51 million people,
or one in every six U.S. residents, according to the Massachusetts-based
Bill of Rights Defense Committee which has been working with the
American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) and other groups to marshal
public opinion against the Act.
Meanwhile, the ACLU disclosed Thursday that it has filed a lawsuit
challenging the constitutionality of a provision in the Act which
permits the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) to compel Internet
service providers to turn over information about their customers
or subscribers in counterterrorism or counterintelligence cases
without a judge's approval.
The lawsuit, which was filed April 6 but not made public due to
its extraordinary sensitivity until Thursday, challenges the authority
given to the FBI under the Act to issue "National Security
Letters" (NSLs) that require the recipients which may
include banks, telephone companies, and even libraries to
provide records about their clients. The same provision makes it
a crime for the NSL recipients to notify the subjects of the NSL
that their records have been turned over.
a result of the Patriot Act, the FBI may now use NSLs to obtain
sensitive information about innocent individuals who have no connection
to espionage or terrorism," according to the ACLU which has
argued that all such requests should be authorized by a court.
The Patriot Act, which was rushed through Congress in October, 2001,
has drawn widespread criticism from a range of groups across the
US political spectrum.
survey of 65 criminal justice and legal experts by Thomson Wadsworth
(a publishing division of Thomson Learning) released this week found
strong disapproval of the Act, with 95 percent of respondents agreeing
with the statement, "The USA Patriot Act was passed too quickly
and/or without adequate analysis on its impact on other laws and
Three quarters of the respondents said they believed that some of
the Act's provisions "violate individual rights" while
more than two-thirds agreed that the government had at its disposal
before the Act's approval sufficient authority to protect the nation
The 300 local and state jurisdictions that have gone on record against
the Act have objected especially to the sweeping powers given to
the Justice Department to round up, detain, and summarily deport
immigrants without filing charges or providing them with access
to attorneys, or, in some cases, even to their family members; the
use of racial and ethnic profiling by federal agencies in targeting
suspects; and/or the granting of unprecedented powers to the FBI
to secretly obtain information with little or no judicial review
Of the 25 most populous US cities, 15 including Philadelphia,
Baltimore, Detroit, Dallas, Denver, San Jose, Seattle, San Francisco,
and Milwaukee, and Washington, D.C. have approved resolutions
urging that the Act be amended or repealed.
Hundreds of other communities and states are currently considering
similar resolutions, while the last December, the National League
of Cities called for the Act to be amended.
New York's resolution, approved in February, is among the most far-reaching.
Approved by the City Council, Resolution 60 urges local agencies,
the New York Police Department (NYPD) in particular, not to subject
New Yorkers to secret detentions without access to counsel, to protect
the free-speech rights of individuals, and refrain from enforcing
federal immigration laws or engage in racial or ethnic profiling.
The measure, which was approved by voice vote, also calls upon the
New York delegation in Congress to "actively work for the repeal
of those sections of the USA PATRIOT Act (USAPA) and related federal
actions that unduly infringe upon fundamental rights and liberties."
city of New York perhaps more than any city in America
is keenly aware of why we are engaged in a war on terror,"
said Donna Lieberman, executive director of the New York Civil Liberties
Union, the local branch of the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU).
impact of the City Council's vote on security is likely to be put
to a major test when the Republican National Convention meets in
New York Aug. 30 to Sept. 2. Large-scale protests are expected.
Talanian, director of the Defense Committee, said that the growing
grassroots movement against the Act represented a serious challenge
to the Bush administration that could affect the upcoming elections.
"This movement will play a role in helping people make informed
choices in this election year," she said.
Bush and Attorney General John Ashcroft have insisted that the Act
was carefully drafted and does not represent a threat to civil rights
or lawful dissent.
Lobe is Inter Press Service's correspondent in Washington, DC.
© 2004 One World