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Civil Rights Advocacy Group Opposes Bush 'USA Patriot Act'

The American Civil Liberties Union is launching a nationwide campaign aimed at protecting civil rights that it says have come under assault during the Bush administration's war on terrorism. President Bush says his administration is acting to help root out terrorism without infringing Americans' civil rights.

The ACLU, a non-partisan civil rights organization, launched its $3.5 million media campaign on the first anniversary of the USA Patriot Act.

The law, signed by President Bush after last year's September 11 attacks, lifted many restrictions on how the FBI and U.S. intelligence investigate suspected terrorists. The rights group has filed several lawsuits to overturn the law.

ACLU Executive Director Anthony Romero says it has had a serious impact on civil liberties. "This law rushed thorough Congress in the immediate aftermath of September 11, is responsible for severely altering our nation's immigration laws; for expanding the government's ability to spy on U.S. citizens, and for increasing the capacity for unreasonable searches and seizures," Mr. Romero said.

Mr. Romero is calling on the ACLU's 300,000 members to organize and lobby Washington in defense of liberty.

President Bush, in signing the new law, said changes in the ways law enforcement agents survey and pursue suspects were needed because of the technological advances in the ways crimninals communicate, including e-mail and the Internet.

He assured Americans that the USA Patriot Act will in no way violate anyone's civil rights, including the right to free speech. "This bill met with overwhelming, overwhelming agreement in Congress because it upholds and respects the civil liberties guaranteed by our constitution," Mr. Bush said.

But ACLU disagrees. Its campaign, which includes a series of television ads, opens this week with an ad showing a hand representing the attorney general crossing out sections of the U.S. Constitution with a red pen.

"Look what John Ashcroft is doing to our Constitution," the commercial says. "He's seized powers for the Bush Administration no president should ever have. The right to investigate you for what you say, to intrude on your privacy, to hold you in jail without charging you with a crime."

ACLU says it has the backing of several religious groups and some of the most conservative members of Congress, including Republican representatives Dick Armey and Bob Barr.