WASHINGTON -- Just as one U.S. senator has started an effort to get rid of the sunset provisions on the counterterrorism USA Patriot Act, passed in response to the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks on the U.S., a couple of civil liberties groups urged congressional staffers to carefully weigh any expansion of police powers the U.S. government can use on its own citizens.
"There has to be some point where we draw a line and say we're going to stop redrawing the line between liberty and security," said Tim Lynch, director of the Project on Criminal Justice at the libertarian Cato Institute. Lynch was among the speakers at a Cato Institute briefing, attended by about 150 congressional staffers, lobbyists and members of the press, on Capitol Hill Monday.
"You're never going to have the day come when Congress passes a law that says, 'okay, starting now, we're a police state, and law enforcement has every power we can think of,'" added Susan Chamberlin, Cato's director of government affairs. "Instead, what we see is incremental upward adjustments in the power of law enforcement and the power of our military such that somebody born in the
The USA Patriot Act, short for Uniting and Strengthening America by Providing Appropriate Tools Required to Intercept and Obstruct Terrorism, breezed through Congress in less than a month during October of 2001. Among the provisions of the act: Internet service providers can allow government surveillance of "computer trespassers" without a judicial order, and government agents can collect information on a suspect's Web browsing and e-mail, while the authorizing judge cannot turn down such a government request.
U.S. Senator Orrin Hatch, a Utah Republican, proposed last week to get rid of the sunset provisions in the Patriot Act, in which some provisions of the law would expire on
Calling the Patriot Act a "textbook example" of how not to make law, Lynch on Monday urged Congress to slow down when considering legislation that could affect civil liberties. The "gigantic, telephone book-sized" bills should be broken into smaller pieces for congressional consideration, he added, and sunset provisions should be employed often.
"There's no reasonable objection that can be made, in my view, to breaking these things down into smaller parts and insisting on sunset provisions," he said.