Civil liberties:

Racial profiling and the assault on civil liberties

International Socialist Review, November-December 2001


The U.S. is using the antiterrorism crusade to increase the surveillance authority of government agencies. On October 26, Bush signed the Uniting and Strengthening America by Providing the Appropriate Tools Required to Intercept and Obstruct Terrorism (USA PATRIOT) Act into law. Laura Murphy, director of the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU} Washington National Office says, "lncluded in the bill are provisions that would allow for the mistreatment of immigrants, the suppression of dissent and the investigation and surveillance of wholly innocent Americans."

The legislation grants sweeping new powers to the FBI, CIA, and others, using a "secret court"-the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court-as the governing authority for issuing warrants. Lest one think that this court might provide a badly needed check on FBI powers, the Seattle Post-lntelligencer reports that "about the only thing known publicly about the seven-member panel created in 1978 that sits secretly in the basement of the Justice Department is that it has never rejected an FBI request for a secret warrant."

Along with granting "roving wiretaps" the ability to conduct electronic surveillance wherever a person goes, rather than in a specific location-the bill allows the following:

* The FBI is given new authority for Internet searches and can ask the secret court for warrant to monitor the Internet activities of anyone suspected of terrorism. If that involves the use of Internet connections at libraries or cybercafes, the FBI can collect all of the e-mails and information on the Internet sites visited. "The net is cast so broadly, a lot of innocent communications are caught up," said David Sobel, general counsel of the Electronic Privacy Information Center.

* The FBI is authorized to investigate anyone they believe is linked either to international or domestic terrorism. Although a person is not considered directly involved in terrorist activity, he or she could be charged with "harboring" a suspected terrorist or "providing material support" to a suspect.

* Reports of bank deposits deemed by a clerk to be suspicious or in violation of state or federal law or involving more than $10,000 will be turned over to federal intelligence agencies, including the CIA, without any notification to the depositor.

* Federal agencies can secretly receive credit, medical, and student records on anyone suspected of involvement in terrorism, after approval by the secret court, regardless of state privacy laws.

* Using a secret warrant, the FBI can break into offices or homes to conduct secret searches. Agents don't need probable cause, just a suspicion of involvement in a crime. There would be no notification of materials found during these searches.

* Immigrants and noncitizens could be detained for up to seven days before charges are filed. Those charged with immigration violations, including overstaying visas, can be deported. If their home countries refuse to take them, they can be held indefinitely.

John Nichols notes in the Nation magazine that the legislation may make the payment of membership dues to political organizations a deportable offense. He also points out that it gives the attorney general and the secretary of state the power to designate domestic groups as terrorist organizations and to block any noncitizen who belongs to those groups from entering the country.

According to writer and activist Marty Jezer:

The most dangerous part of the bill is Section 803 of the Senate Bill which creates a new crime, that of "domestic terrorism. Domestic terrorism is defined vaguely as to include the intention to "intimidate or coerce a civilian population" and to "influence the policy of a government by intimidation or coercion." Any political demonstration can be deemed coercive and intimidating, as can speech or writing. A demonstrator or an undercover police agent who throws a rock or damages property already illegal under existing law could provide the government with the pretext to charge demonstrators with an act of terrorism. Moreover, any person who provides assistance to the demonstrators would also be liable for prosecution as a terrorist. The provisions regarding "domestic terrorism" are not meant to protect the country from real terrorists. They are, instead, an intimidating and coercive threat to free speech and public assembly.

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