UPDATE: As reported by the First Amendment Center, new privacy protections have not been added, and the Act has been extended for one more year.
February 23, 2010 — With Congress poised to vote on reauthorizing the USA PATRIOT Act later this week, a coalition of 43 New York-based organizations is 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. 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.
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