Wednesday, March 23, 2005

Coalition Forms to Oppose Parts of Antiterrorism Law

“An unlikely coalition of liberal civil-rights advocates, conservative libertarians, gun-rights supporters and medical privacy advocates voiced their objections to crucial parts of the law that expanded those powers after the attacks of Sept. 11, 2001.

Keeping the law intact "will do great and irreparable harm" to the Constitution by allowing the government to investigate people's reading habits, search their homes without notice and pry into their personal lives, said Bob Barr, a former Republican congressman who is leading the coalition.

Mr. Barr voted for the law, known as the USA Patriot Act, in the House just weeks after the Sept. 11 attacks but has become one of its leading critics, a shift that reflects the growing unease among some conservative libertarians over the expansion of the government's powers in fighting terrorism.

He joined with other conservatives as well as the American Civil Liberties Union on Tuesday in announcing the creation of the coalition, which hopes to curtail some of the law's more sweeping law-enforcement provisions.

The coalition of liberals and conservatives said it had no quarrel with the majority of the expanded counterterrorism tools that the law provided, some of which amounted to modest upgrades in the government's ability to use modern technology in wiretapping phone calls and the like.

But the group said it would focus its efforts on urging Congress to scale back three provisions of the law that let federal agents conduct "sneak and peek" searches of a home or business without immediately notifying the subject of such searches; demand records from institutions like libraries and medical offices; and use a broad definition of terrorism in pursuing suspects.

The group, calling itself Patriots to Restore Checks and Balances, asked Mr. Bush in a letter Tuesday to reconsider his "unqualified endorsement" of the law.

Although Congressional action is still probably months away, both sides are already girding for an intense debate. Previous efforts to curtail parts of the law have won significant support in Congress, but the administration and Republican leaders have ultimately beaten back the challenges. Mr. Barr said he considered the debate "the single most important issue" facing Congress.

The Bush administration has offered a sharp rebuttal to growing attacks on the law in the last two years, saying that federal agents have used their new powers sparingly and judiciously.

Administration officials note that the Justice Department's inspector general and other groups that have examined the law have not documented any abuses of power.

Critics, however, counter that because most aspects of the law's use in terrorism cases remain classified, it has been very difficult to assess how it is being utilized.…
con·cept: Coalition Forms to Oppose Parts of Antiterrorism Law