Congress has Opportunity to Revise Patriot Act and Restore Civil Liberties Protections
Interview with Kevin Bankston, senior staff attorney with the Electronic Frontier Foundation, conducted by Scott Harris
In the aftermath of the Sept. 11, 2001 terrorist attacks in New York City and Washington D.C., President Bush succeeded in pushing Congress to pass the USA Patriot Act, a far-reaching bill that many legislators never read before voting for it. The act, signed into law on Oct. 26, 2001 gave sweeping new powers to both domestic law enforcement and international intelligence agencies, while eliminating checks and balances that previously gave courts the opportunity to ensure that such powers were not abused.
At the end of 2009, three provisions of the Patriot Act will expire. Many civil liberties advocates are now urging Congress to review the nation's surveillance laws and amend those that have been found unconstitutional or have been abused by law enforcement agencies to collect information on innocent people.
Among the Patriot Act provisions that will sunset on Dec. 31 are National Security Letters which compel Internet companies, libraries, banks and other institutions and businesses to turn over sensitive information on their customers; the Material Support Statute, which criminalizes providing "material support" to terrorists, regardless of whether they actually or intentionally further terrorist goals -- and 2008 amendments to the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act or FISA, that authorizes the government to conduct warrantless, dragnet collection of U.S. residents' international phone calls and e-mails. Between The Lines' Scott Harris spoke with Kevin Bankston, senior staff attorney with the Electronic Frontier Foundation, which has filed lawsuits against the telecommunication companies participating in warrantless surveillance. He assesses efforts in Congress to roll back some provisions of the USA Patriot Act that are seen by many as standing in violation of basic constitutional rights.
The Electronic Frontier Foundation currently has lawsuits against AT&T, the government and is challenging the constitutionality of the law granting telecommunication companies immunity. Contact the foundation by calling (415) 436-9333 or visit their website at www.eff.org
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