New Coalition Urges Changes in US Anti-Terror Law

An unlikely alliance of liberal and conservative groups is joining forces to urge Congress to make some changes in the sweeping anti-terrorism law known as the Patriot Act.

Congress passed the Patriot Act not long after the terrorist attacks that shook the nation and the world on September 11, 2001.

The act made it easier for law enforcement agencies to monitor terrorist suspects and removed bureaucratic barriers that had limited the sharing of information between criminal investigators and intelligence agencies.

At the same time, the Patriot Act sparked criticism from both the political left and right that the new monitoring powers were too intrusive.

Now, an unusual coalition of liberal and conservative groups is urging Congress to make some changes in the Patriot Act when it comes up for renewal in the House and Senate later this year. Several parts of the law related to surveillance powers are due to expire at the end of the year unless extended by Congress.

Bob Barr
Bob Barr is a former Republican congressman from Georgia. He voted for the Patriot Act in 2001 but now supports changes that would limit the ability of federal agents to gather personal information in the pursuit of terrorist suspects.

"The problem is that some of its provisions, those that we are discussing here today, go beyond number one, what is necessary to successfully fight acts of terrorism," he said, "and, secondly, if allowed to continue, will do great and irreparable harm to the 4th Amendment [prohibits unreasonable search and seizure] to the Constitution of the United States of America, which is the underpinning of the basic notion of privacy in our system of government."

Mr. Barr is chairman of a new group called Patriots To Restore Checks and Balances. Other conservative groups involved in the effort include the Citizens Committee for the Right to Keep and Bear Arms and the American Conservative Union.

Traditionally liberal groups are also involved.

"It permits zealous or ideologically motivated government agents to co-opt the definition of domestic terrorism in the Patriot Act to permit the use of special invasive measures against public demonstrators," said Laura Murphy, who is with the American Civil Liberties Union, an organization that has long criticized parts of the Patriot Act. "Terrorism laws must target terrorists, not critics of government policy."

The coalition to change the Patriot Act has written to President Bush asking that he be open to their suggestions to change the law.

Alberto Gonzales
Attorney General Alberto Gonzales recently praised the Patriot Act as an important tool in the war on terrorism. He also said the administration would be willing to consider some minor changes to the Patriot Act.

"If some have suggestions for improvements that will make America safer, I would be interested in hearing those," he said. "But mindful of the tragedy of September 11th, I will not support changes that would make America more vulnerable to terrorist attacks."

The new secretary for Homeland Security, Michael Chertoff, recently said that the government must do a better job of respecting civil liberties as it goes after suspected terrorists.

During a speech in Washington, Secretary Chertoff described the war on terrorism as more of a marathon than a sprint.

"We will earn the public trust when we demonstrate that the information we do collect and the measures we do implement are tailored to the goals of preserving security and do not creep beyond that mission," he said. "Our ultimate goal is a time when security measures are a comfortable, convenient part of our routine, a time when people go about their daily lives mindful of risks but not encumbered by fear."

Discussions between the White House and Congress on renewing the Patriot Act are likely to begin soon, with congressional votes expected before the end of the year.

This forum has been closed.
There are no comments in this forum. Be first and add one

Featured Videos

Your JavaScript is turned off or you have an old version of Adobe's Flash Player. Get the latest Flash player.
Russia’s Syria Involvement Raising Concerns in Europei
Luis Ramirez
October 02, 2015 4:45 PM
European nations are joining the United States in demanding that Russia stop targeting opposition groups other than the Islamic State militants as Russian warplanes continue to conduct raids in Syria. The demand came in a statement from Britain, France, Germany, Qatar, Saudi Arabia, Turkey and the United States Friday. VOA Europe correspondent Luis Ramirez reports.

Video Russia’s Syria Involvement Raising Concerns in Europe

European nations are joining the United States in demanding that Russia stop targeting opposition groups other than the Islamic State militants as Russian warplanes continue to conduct raids in Syria. The demand came in a statement from Britain, France, Germany, Qatar, Saudi Arabia, Turkey and the United States Friday. VOA Europe correspondent Luis Ramirez reports.

Video First Self-Driving Truck Debuts on European Highways

The first automated semi-trailer truck started its maiden voyage Friday, Oct. 2, on a European highway. The Daimler truck called 'Actros' is the first potentially mass-produced truck whose driver will be required only to monitor the situation, similar to the role of an airline captain while the plane is in autopilot mode. VOA’s George Putic reports.

Video Nano-tech Filter Cleans Dirty Water

Access to clean water is a problem for hundreds of millions of people around the world. Now, a scientist and chemical engineer in Tanzania (in East Africa) is working to change that by creating an innovative water filter that makes dirty water safe. VOA’s Deborah Block has the story.

Video Demand Rising for Organic Produce in Cambodia

In Cambodia, where rice has long been the main cash crop, farmers are being encouraged to turn to vegetables to satisfy the growing demand for locally produced organic farm products. Daniel de Carteret has more from Phnom Penh.

Video Migrant Influx Costs Europe, But Economy Could Benefit

The influx of hundreds of thousands of refugees and migrants is testing Europe’s ability to respond – especially in the poorer Balkan states. But some analysts argue that Europe will benefit by welcoming the huge numbers of young people – many of them well educated and willing to work. Henry Ridgwell reports from London.

Video Botanists Grow Furniture, with Pruning Shears

For something a bit out of the ordinary to furnish your home, why not consider wooden chairs, crafted by nature, with a little help from some British botanists with an eye for design. VOA’s Jessica Berman reports.

Video New Fabric Helps Fight Dust-Related Allergies

Many people around the world suffer from dust-related allergies, caused mainly by tiny mites that live in bed linen. Polish scientists report they have successfully tested a fabric that is impenetrable to the microscopic creatures. VOA’s George Putic has more.

Video Burkina Faso's Economy Deeply Affected by Political Turmoil

Political turmoil in Burkina Faso over the past year has taken a toll on the economy. The transitional government is reporting nearly $70 million in losses in the ten days that followed a short-lived coup by members of the presidential guard earlier this month. The crisis shut businesses and workers went on strike. With elections on the horizon, Emilie Iob reports on what a return to political stability can do for the country's economic recovery.

Video Fleeing Violence, Some Syrians Find Refuge in Irbil

As Syrians continue to flee their country’s unrest to seek new lives in safer places, VOA Persian Service reporter Shepol Abbassi visited Irbil, where a number Syrians have taken refuge. During the religious holidy of Eid al-Adha, the city largely shut down, as temperatures soared. Amy Katz narrates his report.

Video Nigeria’s Wecyclers Work for Reusable Future in Lagos

The streets and lagoons of Africa's largest city - Lagos, Nigeria - are often clogged with trash, almost none of which gets recycled. One company is trying to change that. Chris Stein reports for VOA from Lagos.

Video Sketch Artist Helps Catch Criminals, Gives a Face to Deceased

Police often face the problem of trying to find a crime suspect based on general descriptions that could fit hundreds of people in the vicinity of the crime. In these cases, an artist can use information from witnesses to sketch a likeness that police can show the public via newspapers and television. But, as VOA’s Greg Flakus reports from Houston, such sketches can also help bring back faces of the dead.

Video Thailand Set to Build China-like Internet Firewall

Thai authorities are planning to tighten control over the Internet, creating a single international access point so they can better monitor content. VOA Correspondent Steve Herman reports from Bangkok on what is being called Thailand’s own "Great Firewall."

Video Croatian Town’s War History Evokes Empathy for Migrants

As thousands of Afghanistan, Iraqi and Syrian migrants pass through Croatia, locals are reminded of their own experiences with war and refugees in the 1990s. VOA's Daniel Schearf reports from the town of Vukovar, where wartime scars still are visible today.

Video Long Drought Affecting California’s Sequoias

California is suffering under a historic four-year drought and scientists say even the state's famed sequoia trees are feeling the pain. The National Park Service has started detailed research to see how it can help the oldest living things on earth survive. VOA’s George Putic reports.

VOA Blogs