George W. Bush signed the USA PATRIOT Act into law on Saturday, Oct. 26, 2001. This began four years of repressive laws and orders that greatly affect a person’s fundamental freedoms. Since that time, 389 cities and counties and seven states (Alaska, Colorado, Hawaii, Idaho, Maine, Montana and Vermont) have passed resolutions upholding the civil liberties and rights of residents within their jurisdictions.
In recognition of last week’s anniversary, I note that nine protective resolutions have been adopted in North Carolina (Boone, Carrboro, Chapel Hill, Davidson, Durham, Durham County, Greensboro, Orange County, Raleigh). This anniversary reminds many people that sections of the PATRIOT Act and other new laws and policies meant to prevent terrorism undermine basic civil rights and liberties (see www.epic.org/privacy/terrorism/hr3162.html.
A congressional conference committee is currently meeting to produce a compromise version of the House and Senate reauthorization bill for the PATRIOT Act. Welcome news came on Oct. 4, when business organizations sent a letter to Senate Judiciary Committee Chair Arlen Specter and PATRIOT Act conferees calling for changes to the Act. In their letter, the United States Chamber of Commerce, the Financial Services Roundtable, the National Association of Manufacturers, the National Association of Realtors and other groups expressed their support for the Senate bill’s reform of section 215, which gives the government access to records and other items under the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act. They also asked that section 505 be changed to provide the right to challenge the orders and to require a showing of “reasonable suspicion linking the records to a terrorist, spy or other foreign agent.” In addition, they objected to any proposal to allow “administrative subpoenas” that would avoid “factual predicate and … court approval.” Neither version of the reauthorization bill includes the latter revisions. North Carolina Congressmen Melvin Watt and David Price have voted against reauthorization of the PATRIOT Act. The Orange County Bill of Rights Defense Committee, supporting the U.S. Constitution (www.house.gov/Constitution/Constitution.html), Bill of Rights, and N.C. Constitution, hopes the public will be aware of the dangers of limitations on its rights and express its concerns to Sens. Elizabeth Dole and Richard Burr and the other 11 N.C. representatives.
Information is available on www.bordc.org, the Web site of the Bill of Rights Defense Committee, which works to restore protections guaranteed under the Bill of Rights and the U.S. Constitution.