With Congress poised to vote on reauthorizing the USA PATRIOT Act later this week, the New York Civil Liberties Union today joined a coalition of 43 organizations from across New York State in urging the state’s federal lawmakers to support critical reforms to the controversial law that would restore Americans’ privacy and constitutional rights. Key provisions of the Patriot Act will expire on Sunday unless Congress renews them. In a letter to the state’s congressional delegation, the NYCLU and its statewide coalition partners ask lawmakers to insert important constitutional protections into the law before reauthorizing it. “The Patriot Act threatens New Yorkers’ privacy and individual rights,” NYCLU Executive Director Donna Lieberman said. “Congress must use this opportunity to place common sense limits on this misguided law and bring it into line with the Constitution.” Passed with little deliberation in 2001, the Patriot Act greatly expanded law enforcements’ surveillance and investigative powers while curtailing Americans’ constitutional rights of speech, association, privacy and due process. Following its passage, the controversial legislation drew significant bipartisan criticism. In New York State, 28 counties and local municipalities have passed legislation opposing the Patriot Act. Recognizing these threats, Congress required that sections of the Patriot Act be reexamined periodically. Lawmakers reauthorized the law in 2005, adding minor civil liberties protections. Another reauthorization was set for the end of 2009, but Congress voted in December to extend that deadline 60 days to Feb. 28. The coalition’s letter listed several essential reforms, including:

  • Restricting the federal government’s national security letter (NSL) authority so that law enforcement cannot access people’s communication and financial records unless they pertain to a terrorist suspect or spy.
  • Amending the Patriot Act’s roving wiretap authority so that law enforcement must describe the individual or device it plans to wiretap.
  • Curtailing the government’s “sneak and peek” authority, which authorizes law-enforcement agents to conduct searches without notifying the owner or occupant of the searched premises.
“There is little evidence that the Patriot Act has made us safer, but there are many examples of government agents abusing the unprecedented powers contained in the law,” Lieberman said. “The time to check these unconstitutional powers is long overdue.” Many of the reforms listed in the letter were included in the original language of USA Patriot Amendments Act (H.R. 3845), legislation introduced in October 2009 and sponsored by U.S. Rep. Jerrold Nadler, D-N.Y. The letter, sent to lawmakers by fax and first-class mail, was signed by a diverse coalition of 43 organizations from across New York, including: Amnesty International (Group 42) American-Arab Anti Discrimination Committee, New York Chapter Asian American Legal Defense and Education Fund Bill of Rights Defense Committee Blauvelt Dominican Sisters Ministry for Social Justice Brooklyn For Peace Citizen Action of New York Code Pink NYC Women for Peace Common Cause New York Concerned Families of Westchester Connie Hogarth Center for Social Action Council of Peoples Organization (COPO) Council on American-Islamic Relations – New York (CAIR-NY) Democracy for New York City DRUM – Desis Rising Up and Moving Flames of Discontent Grandmothers for Peace, Franklin County, NY Granny Peace Brigade NY Greater New York Labor-Religion Coalition Judson Memorial Church, New York City Libertarian Party of New York Mid Hudson Progressive Alliance Mount Vernon United Tenants National Coalition Against Censorship New York Metro Progressives Pax Christi Metro New York Peace Action New York State Philipstown for Democracy Progressive Democrats of America – Genesee Valley Chapter Progressive Democrats of America, Western New York Chapter Progressive Democrats of New York, Congressional District 14 Prospect Lefferts Voices for Peace and Justice Rev. Dr. Earl Kooperkamp, St. Mary’s Episcopal Church – West Harlem, NY Rockland County Coalition for Democracy and Freedom September 11th Families for Peaceful Tomorrows Student Social Work Alliance for a Progressive Society WESPAC Foundation, Westchester County, NY Westchester Martin Luther King Jr. Institute for Nonviolence Westchester Progressive Forum Women Against War Steering Committee (Capital District, NY) Women’s Building, Inc. – Albany, NY