NEW YORK - July 12 - Hundreds of activists led by the New York Civil Liberties Union and the New York Bill of Rights Defense Campaign took to the streets today, calling on Congress to reform the Patriot Act.
Speakers at the noontime rally outside the New York Public Library urged Senator Charles E. Schumer and Congressman Anthony Weiner of Brooklyn -- who, respectively, sit on the Judiciary Committee in the Senate and House of Representatives -- to support the SAFE Act and the Civil Liberties Restoration Act, which would restore checks and balances on the exercise of Patriot Act powers. Demonstrators also called on lawmakers to oppose legislation that would reinstate Patriot Act provisions scheduled to expire later this year.
"Congress now has the opportunity to place common-sense limits on the Patriot Act while still providing law enforcement agencies the tools they need to protect our safety," said Donna Lieberman, Executive Director of the NYCLU. "Lawmakers must examine examples of Patriot Act abuses and misuses and seize this opportunity to add judicial, Congressional and public oversight to Patriot Act powers."
When Congress passed the Patriot Act in the weeks immediately following September 11, 2001, it recognized that it was granting broad and unprecedented powers to law enforcement, and that these provisions should be re-examined. Congress designated December 31, 2005, as the expiration date for approximately 10 percent of the Patriot Act.
Since passage of the Patriot Act, seven state legislatures-including the "red" states of Alaska, Idaho, Colorado and Montana-and local governments in more than 380 cities and towns have passed anti-Patriot Act resolutions. In New York State alone, 26 counties, towns, and cities have passed such resolutions. Under the banner of the New York Bill of Rights Defense Campaign, close to 100 organizations have come together to call for reform of the Patriot Act.
"New Yorkers are unwilling to sacrifice their liberty for a false sense of security," said Udi Ofer, Project Director of the New York Bill of Rights Defense Campaign at the NYCLU. "Millions of New Yorkers live in cities and towns that have passed resolutions calling for repeal of certain Patriot Act provisions. Senator Schumer and Congressman Weiner are in a unique position to influence the national debate on Patriot Act reauthorization. They should listen to New Yorkers and support Patriot Act reform."
On June 30, the NYCLU sent letters to Senator Schumer and Congressman Weiner asking them to sign on as co-sponsors of the Security and Freedom Enhancement Act of 2005. The SAFE Act would place limits on the governments surveillance powers and on its ability to access personal records. The NYCLU also urged the lawmakers to support the Civil Liberties Restoration Act. These legislative proposals are intended to restore constitutional protections of speech, expression, privacy, religious freedom and due process that have been compromised unduly by provisions of the Patriot Act and by various non-legislative antiterrorism initiatives.
The SAFE Act would amend the following provisions in the Patriot Act:
- Section 215, which grants the FBI sweeping authority to seize sensitive personal information and belongings, with no notice to the person whose information or property has been seized, and no requirement of proof of individualized criminal activity. The law places a "gag" on an organization (or its representatives) that is served with a Section 215 order by an FBI agent; disclosure to anyone that an order has been received is a crime.
- Section 213, known as the "sneak and peek" section, which permits the government to seize property and execute secret searches in ordinary domestic criminal matters (cases that do not involve foreign intelligence surveillance) without obtaining a warrant and without informing the target of the search for weeks, months, or years after the search has been executed.
- Section 802, which defines "domestic terrorism" so broadly that it makes one liable as a terrorist merely for engaging in nonviolent civil disobedience.
- "New Yorkers will be working overtime in the weeks to come to make sure that New Yorks lawmakers vote on the side of liberty," said Nathan Stamm, volunteer Chair of the New York City Bill of Rights Defense Campaign. "We will persistently call on lawmakers to make sure they understand that all New Yorkers are negatively impacted by the Patriot Act."
Speakers at the rally included representatives from People for the American Way, 9/11 Families for Peaceful Tomorrows, Kristen Breitweiser (whose husband was killed in the 9/11 attacks), the Council on American Islamic Relations and New York City Council Member Bill Perkins.