Conservative Groups and ACLU Demand Patriot Act Amendments

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On March 23, the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) announced that it had joined forces with several conservative organizations "to fix the most extreme provisions of the Patriot Act," many of which are scheduled to expire at the end of 2005. The new group, called "Patriots to Restore Checks and Balances (PRCB )," is chaired by former Republican Congressperson Bob Barr, who represented the 7th Congressional Distinct, and it includes Americans for Tax Reform and the American Conservative Union, among other organizations. In addition, the group expressed its concerns over Sections 213, 215, and 802 of the Patriot Act in a March 22 letter addressed to President George W. Bush.

Bob Barr, Chairman of Patriots to Restore Checks and Balances

"Commitment to America's freedoms transcends any political ideology," said Laura W. Murphy, director of the ACLU Washington Legislative Office, in a press statement. "The Patriot Act went too far, too fast, and now is the time to determine what freedoms have been unnecessarily lost in the name of national security. Now is the time for Congress to restore those freedoms."

PRCB is urging Congress to thoroughly review the "most intrusive and constitutionally suspect provisions of the Patriot Act." Said Barr in a statement, "Checks and balances are absolutely essential, even and especially during times of threat. Our message is universal: Liberty is not divisible, even in the face of terrorism, and we must not allow any part of it to be sacrificed in our efforts to defeat acts of terrorism."

As a first step in the campaign, on March 22, several PRCB members voiced their concerns in a letter to President Bush. In the letter, the groups wrote:

"We urge you to reconsider your unqualified endorsement of the most intrusive, unchecked powers temporarily granted by the Act such as ... Section 215, which allows government agents to collect personal data on law-abiding Americans -- such as the books they buy or borrow, their personal medical history, or even records of goods they purchase, such as firearms -- without strong evidence connecting the person or their records to the commission of a crime or to a foreign terrorist agent." (To view the letter in its entirety, click here.)

PRCB joins a growing list of organizations and politicians seeking to amend the Patriot Act. On March 9, Rep. Bernie Sanders (I-VT) reintroduced The Freedom to Read Protection Act (H.R. 1157), first introduced into the House in 2003, which would amend Section 215 of the USA Patriot Act to protect the privacy of bookstore and library patrons.

Furthermore, in 2004, the Campaign for Reader Privacy (CRP), a nationwide petition drive, was launched by the American Library Association, PEN American Center, the Association of American Publishers, and ABA. In early March, ABA e-mailed a letter to independent booksellers who have participated in the CRP that called on them to urge their members of Congress to support Sanders' legislation and to become a co-sponsor of his bill. Attached with the e-mail was a template letter that booksellers can send to their members of Congress.