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NYCLU Opposes State Terrorism Legislation — Charging The Law Poses New Threat To Rights And Liberties

The NYCLU raised strong objections both to the substance of new antiterrorism legislation and to the lack of public deliberation by legislators regarding the danger the new law poses to fundamental rights and liberties.

The legislation, which the legislature passed today and which Governor Pataki is expected to sign, creates seven new crimes related to the possession or use of so-called biological or chemical weapons. The mere possession of any “microorganism, virus, infectious substance, or biological product” would require a mandatory sentence of life without parole. The bill would also create new crimes of money laundering in support of terrorism (with a threshold of only $1,000); extend or eliminate the statutes of limitation for crimes of terrorism; and require the taking of DNA samples from all persons convicted of such crimes.

The NYCLU approved of those provisions in the legislation that create a statewide plan to secure public safety and protect critical infrastructure. However, the group contends that those provisions do not save the bill from its underlying flaws.

The NYCLU’s objection to the legislation is based, in part, on the definition of terrorism created by the Anti-Terrorism Act of 2001. The legislation created new terrorism crimes involving certain offenses undertaken with an intent to “intimidate or coerce” a civilian population or unit of government. The NYCLU raised concerns at the time that the extraordinarily broad definition of terrorism and related crimes might lead to terrorism prosecutions against persons whose alleged criminal conduct has nothing to with terrorism. There are now reports that indicated this has been occurring both at the federal and state levels.

Robert Perry, the NYCLU’s legislative director, said that “The concern about overzealous and misguided terrorism prosecutions is well founded. Federal data indicate that Justice Department investigators have been subjecting thousands of persons to terrorism prosecutions for alleged offenses that have nothing to do with terrorism. Extending this authority to local law-enforcement will almost certainly exacerbate the injustice.”

The NYCLU acknowledged that the legislation passed today is drawn more narrowly than the anti-terrorism that passed the Senate earlier in the session. That bill would have repealed long-standing due process protections in terrorism cases, and would have permitted the use of so-called roving wiretaps in the investigation of such cases. These provisions – which the NYCLU vigorously opposed — are absent from the bill voted on today.

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