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20 Civil Liberties Groups: H.R. 3845 Needs Stronger Civil Liberties Protections

The House Judiciary Committee meets Wednesday to consider H.R. 3845, legislation that would reauthorize core provisions of the USA Patriot Act allowing the government to engage in surveillance, search and seizure against innocent Americans, often without warrant and often without notice. As the day approaches for the Judiciary Committee, twenty American civil liberties organizations have released a statement in which they declare that John Conyers’ bill does not sufficiently align itself with the United States Constitution’s requirements for civil liberties protection. The groups call for Conyers to add protections to be added to the bill and bring it into constitutional compliance:

While your legislation marks a significant improvement to existing surveillance authority, we urge you and other members of the Judiciary Committee to improve it further by raising the standard for issuing orders under Section 215 of the Patriot Act for business records and for other tangible things. Currently, the FISA court issues these orders when the government provides a statement of facts showing reasonable grounds to believe that the tangible things sought are relevant to an investigation. Current law also establishes presumptions of relevance that, along with the weak relevance standard and the ex parte nature of the proceedings in which these orders are sought, inappropriately limit the scope of judicial scrutiny necessary for such sensitive information. We urge you to support efforts to tighten the Section 215 standard so that records and other tangible things sought with this power pertain to a terrorist, spy, or other agent of a foreign power, or to someone with ties to such person.

We also urge you to further improve your legislation by amending the material support for terrorism statute to expand the exemption for humanitarian aid. Currently, charities and human rights organizations and their employees face severe legal sanctions, including prison time, for providing aid essential to saving lives. The humanitarian exemption for medicine and religious materials should be expanded to include items such as food, water medical services and equipment, clothing and shelter, civil public services and educational materials and activities.

Will the House Judiciary Committee limit Patriot Act grabs of records without a warrant to cases involving terrorism, spying, or agents of foreign powers? Will the House Judiciary Committee amend H.R. 3845 to end the criminalization of humanitarian aid? Watch this Wednesday and see.

We now return you to your regularly scheduled pumpkin.

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