Leadership Conference on Civil Rights Expresses Concerns About Civil Liberties Aspects of New Anti-terrorism Legislation

Media 11.13,01

Leadership Conference on Civil Rights Expresses Concerns
About Civil Liberties Aspects of New Anti-terrorism Legislation

The Leadership Conference on Civil Rights, the nation’s largest and most diverse civil and human rights coalition, has issued the following statement regarding the anti-terrorism bill signed into law by President Bush on October 26, 2001.

The USA-PATRIOT Act contains many important provisions strengthening federal law enforcement capabilities, ones that we hope will prove useful in the war against terrorism. But certain aspects of the new law have the potential to be misused when they are put into practice by the Administration. The Leadership Conference urges Congress to monitor closely the implementation of the law to ensure that the government does not abuse its new powers.

Of particular concern, and perhaps most susceptible to abuse, are provisions in the USA-PATRIOT Act that expand the power of the federal government to detain and deport noncitizens suspected of engaging in a wide array of activities that are now defined under immigration law as terrorist activity. Also of concern in the new law are provisions dealing with electronic surveillance, the disclosure to intelligence agencies of sensitive information about American citizens obtained through grand jury investigations and wiretaps, and the ability of federal agencies to obtain school records, medical records, credit reports and other sensitive personal information about Americans. While the surveillance and information sharing provisions of the law could improve our national security in this time of crisis, the tools also have the potential for being used against the wrong people for politically motivated purposes, as the shameful efforts of COINTELPRO, for example, to embarrass and undermine nonviolent civil rights leaders like Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. have shown us.

The Leadership Conference is pleased that some aspects of the new law will sunset in four years so that Congress may review whether these provisions are still necessary and whether they are being applied in a fair manner. We are disappointed that Congress did not adopt an amendment proposed by Rep. Zoe Lofgren (D-CA) to sunset the entire bill, including the immigration provisions. This omission is particularly unfortunate because the bill makes permanent changes to the laws yet was passed at a fast “emergency” pace that did not allow for careful study of the bill and its full implications. Indeed, some Members of Congress protested, during consideration of the bill, that they had not been given sufficient time to actually read what they were being asked to vote on.

In the absence of a sunset clause, Congress has a special obligation to scrutinize whether immigrants are being detained unjustifiably, and whether this authority is being used in a racially discriminatory manner. The Leadership Conference joins in the calls for the Administration to provide more information about the hundreds of noncitizens who have been detained in connection with the Sept. 11 attacks, and to ensure that their right to counsel and other fundamental rights ? which the Constitution guarantees to all “persons,” not just citizens ? are being adequately protected.

After Americans were last attacked from abroad, at Pearl Harbor, the nation rallied together to defeat the forces of fascism. Yet one painful legacy of that war is the wrongful internment of thousands of Japanese-Americans, a security measure now recognized as a tragic, unreasonable overreaction to the threats of that time. Our enemies this time are real, and they have abused our freedoms in order to commit terrible atrocities against us. Yet as we rally to defeat them, we must learn from our past and not allow our own government to trample on those very same freedoms in response.


* This statement has not been endorsed by every LCCR member organization.