Nov. 14, 2005 – With congressional renewal of the USA Patriot Act expected this month, the nationâ€™s largest body of lawyer last week added its voice to a growing list or organizations opposed to portions of the legislation.
- Patriot Act Reforms Clash in Congress, Public (Jul 15, 2005)
- House Patriot Act Renewal Provision Would Expand Death Penalty (Oct 27, 2005)
In a letter to congressional leaders last Wednesday, American Bar Association President Michael S. Greco outlined his organizationâ€™s concern over three specific provisions of the act under consideration by the House that the ABA feels are overly broad, undermine constitutional protections and give too much leeway to intelligence agencies collecting information. The letter follows earlier statements by the group that the legislation is "offensive" to democracy.
Two of the measures under House consideration would hamper defendantsâ€™ rights in death-penalty cases, the ABA maintains, by allowing judges to reduce the number of jurors deciding the sentence and permitting prosecutors to seat a second jury if the first fails to reach a unanimous verdict. The group is opposed to the death penalty for mentally retarded people and for those who were minors when they committed the crime but has no official stance on the punishment otherwise.
Last month, Human Rights Watch raised concerns about the death-penalty provisions of the House renewal bill.
A third portion of the Patriot Act renewal of concern to the ABA is congressional oversight of intelligence activities under the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act (FISA). In the letter, Greco urges lawmakers to adopt a Senate proposal that would require agencies to report their actions to Congress more often and also demand an annual report from the Attorney General on the state of intelligence activities.
Clandestine surveillance efforts have reached record levels in recent years, the Electronic Privacy Information Center noted recently. According to reports by the organization, requests for secret surveillance under FISA jumped from 1,228 to 1,758 between 2003 and 2004.
In a vote last week, the House approved a Senate measure creating a "sunset" expiration date for a portion of the Patriot Act that allows the Federal Bureau of Investigation to obtain medical, library and business records secretly, an action applauded by the American Civil Liberties Union. Congress expects to make permanent most of the Actâ€™s provisions that are currently to sunset at yearâ€™s end.
Opposition to many parts of the act has been growing recently, with a number of business and conservative organizations joining in calls for reform, the ACLU noted.