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.