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Latest Senate Anti-Terrorism Bill Undermines Basic Rights

An emergency action alert from the American Civil Liberties Union.
In a dramatic departure from the anti-terrorism bill adopted by the House Judiciary Committee, Senate leaders have introduced the "Uniting and Strengthening America (USA) Act" (S.1510), a bill that would significantly undermine many of the freedoms that Americans hold dear. It is likely that this legislation will be rushed onto the Senate floor this week without any committee review.

Among the bill's most troubling provisions are measures that would:

* Allow for indefinite detention of non-citizens, even if they have successfully challenged a government effort to deport them.

* Minimize judicial supervision of federal telephone and Internet surveillance by law enforcement authorities.

* Expand the ability of the government to conduct secret searches.

* Give the Attorney General and the Secretary of State the power to designate domestic groups as terrorist organizations and block any non-citizen who belongs to them from entering the country. Under this provision, paying membership dues to such an organization would become a deportable offense.

* Grant the FBI broad access to sensitive business records about individuals without having to show evidence of a crime.

* Lead to large-scale investigations of American citizens for "intelligence" purposes.

In past times of tragedy and fear, our government has harassed, investigated and arrested people solely because of their race, their religion, their national origin, their speech or their political beliefs. In the 1950's, when fears of the Soviet threat were used to convert dissent into disloyalty, people were spied upon and punished on the basis of political beliefs and associations instead of criminal evidence. Normal standards of criminal evidence were abandoned; instead, race and political beliefs became a cause for suspicion and recrimination. Intelligence-gathering activities were directed at Americans who dared to disagree with the government. We must not allow this to happen again.

- Oppose this Legislation!

The government must not be given the authority to spy on its own people. The wiretapping proposals in the Senate bill sound a common theme: they minimize the role of a judge in ensuring that law enforcement wiretapping is conducted legally and with proper justification. Further, other provisions would allow the government access to sensitive information about U.S. citizens and residents without having to show evidence of a crime. Security and civil liberties do not have to be at odds so long as the checks and balances that have guarded against the excesses of the Executive branch remain in place.

The Attorney General must not be given new and unprecedented authorities to incarcerate non-citizens.
Incarceration of individuals is one of the most serious deprivations of liberty possible. When such a substantial liberty interest is at stake, the Constitution demands that adequate protection-due process-is provided to ensure that decisions are correct and fair. The Senate bill would permit the indefinite detentions of non-citizens based merely on the Attorney General's certification that a non-citizen endanger national security.

The government must not be allowed to expand the use of secret searches.

In most cases, a person is notified when law enforcement conducts a search. But in some cases, law enforcement authorities can get court permission to delay notification of a search for a limited class of crimes under special circumstances. This bill would extend the authority of the government to request "secret searches" in every federal criminal investigation. This vast expansion of power goes far beyond anything necessary to conduct terrorism investigations.

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