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Patriot II Sparks Concern for Civil Liberties

As the U.S. government broadens its scrutiny of Americans deemed terrorist-worthy, many fear new laws threaten rights to privacy.

The American Civil Liberties Union is using a controversial means to address the issue by filing a Supreme Court appeal on behalf of people who don’t even know they’re being monitored. The appeal marks the first post-Sept. 11 anti-terror case to reach the justices, according to Associated Press.

At issue is the Domestic Security and Enhancement Act, which builds on the earlier enacted Patriot Act. The Patriot Act of 2001 gave the U.S. government freer rein to monitor the movements, interactions and communications of individuals suspected of supporting terrorists causes.

The new act, nicknamed Patriot II, “would broadly expand the government’s surveillance and detention powers,” Wired reported. Patriot II calls for the creation of a terrorist DNA database and gives the attorney general carte blanche to revoke citizenship of individuals who provide “material support” to terrorist groups.

Lawmakers had said that no such bill was in the works, according to Wired, even though the Justice Department internally circulated a confidential 120-page summary of the act in early January.

David Cole, Georgetown University law professor and author of Terrorism and the Constitution, told the Center for Public Integrity that the legislation raises serious concerns.

It would “radically expand law enforcement and intelligence gathering authorities, reduce or eliminate judicial oversight over surveillance, authorize secret arrests, create a DNA database based on unchecked executive ‘suspicion,’ create new death penalties, and even seek to take American citizenship away from persons who belong to or support disfavored political groups,” Cole said.

CPI has since published a leaked copy of the bill.

Wired outlined some provisions afforded with Patriot II. The act would allow the government to:

·         Conduct domestic wiretapping without court order for 15 days following a congressional authorization of use of force or an attack on the United States.
·         Secretly detain citizens.
·         Deport any alien, including green-card holders, who are convicted of drug possession or an aggravated felony.
·         Access a citizen’s credit reports without a subpoena.
·         Abolish federal court “consent decrees” that limit police surveillance of non-criminal organizations and public events.
·         Criminalize the use of encryption software in the commission or planning of a felony.
·         Apply strict gag rules to those subpoenaed by a grand jury.
·         Collect DNA from suspected terrorists and any individual whose DNA might assist terror investigations.
·         Extend authorization periods for secret wiretaps and Internet surveillance.
·         Ease restrictions on the use of secret evidence.

Many experts feel that recent exposure of the act will delay its introduction.

“This is a very audacious bill designed to strike while the iron is still hot, but I wonder if it is still hot,” Chris Hoofnagle, deputy counsel for the Electronic Privacy Information Center, told Wired. “There is already resistance to new government surveillance powers.”

Hoofnagle said the matter will likely be shelved until an opportune moment, “like going to war, to introduce it. They call this a draft, but this bill is definitely close to final and gives a good road map of what the Justice Department wants.”

Jodi Mathews is BCE’s communications director.