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Letter: Reform Patriot Act to Halt Further Abuse (Buffalo News)

To the Editor:

News that the Bush administration’s FBI illegally gathered Americans’ phone records should come as no surprise (Jan. 19 News article). The bureau’s end run around federal privacy laws — routinely invoking non-existent terrorism emergencies to access Americans’ private records and then issuing secret National Security Letters after the fact to justify the snooping — is emblematic of the previous administration’s abuse of power.

Congress enabled this illegal spying when it hastily passed the USA Patriot Act in 2001, which gives the FBI broad access to Americans’ personal information, such as books people purchase or phone numbers they dial.

Regardless of the political party in power, the FBI has repeatedly demonstrated a blatant disregard of the Patriot Act’s minimal privacy protections and a disturbing inability to police itself. How many violations of federal law and of Americans’ privacy must occur before Congress acts to avoid future abuse?

Rep. Brian Higgins and his colleagues have an opportunity to reform important sections of the Patriot Act before they expire at the end of February. If they fail to incorporate necessary oversight and privacy protections, we are sure to see even more troubling violations in the future.

Ari Rosmarin
Senior Advocacy Coordinator, New York Civil Liberties Union

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