Civil Liberties Lost

Chris Anderson Jul 4, 2003

Some libraries in California now have signs that read: “Records of the books and other materials you borrow from this library may be obtained by federal agents.” Why?

Under the USA Patriot Act, the FBI and other federal officials can request the records of any library patron. Librarians are forced to comply and are barred from telling anyone that the inquiry was made. Libraries must also hand over records of Internet sites browsed by patrons.

What other personal records can the government now secretly obtain?

Student, banking and travel records as well as records of electronic transactions will all likely be collected in government databases. Under the oversight of disgraced ex Iran Contra official Admiral John Poindexter, the Bush administration has authorized research of a total information awareness system, which would mine public data available on every citizen from banking to travel records to construct a “terrorist profile.” In response to concerns about Big Brother, the administration has changed the program name to “Terrorist Information Awareness.” But critics say the program will not only target terror suspects.

That sounds like something out of 1984. Is it really possible?

Yes. While the terrorist information awareness network is still years away, the nation’s airlines have begun testing a similar program called CAPPS-II that mines public databases to determine the threat level of every passenger.

If I get arrested, will conversations with my attorney be confidential?

Maybe not. Federal agents can now legally eavesdrop on conversations between lawyers and their clients, if the attorney general argues that the case may involve terrorism. New York lawyer Lynne Stewart is currently being prosecuted under this regulatory change.

After Cointelpro was exposed in the early 1970s, the FBI was ordered to stop spying in churches and at political meetings. Is this still true?

No. New regulations allow FBI agents to secretly attend any public meeting including political or religious meetings without even the okay of FBI Headquarters.

Is it really true that the government could jail me, bar me from seeing an attorney and keep me locked up forever without ever pressing charges?

Yes. The government is currently holding three men, including two U.S. citizens as “enemy combatants.” The longest serving one is Jose Padilla of Brooklyn. He has been held in solitary confinement on a military brig in South Carolina for over a year without access to an attorney, without a chance to appeal his case or to hear the evidence against him. He could be held forever without being charged with a crime.

What about non-U.S. citizens, can they be held indefinitely?

At Guantanamo Bay in Cuba, the military is holding 680 men, ranging in age from 14 to seniors, most of whom were captured in Afghanistan and Pakistan. The government claims they are not prisoners of war. Some may face a “military tribunal” which the Bush administration is planning to use to try foreigners suspected of terrorism captured in the United States or overseas.

I heard some immigrants have to “register” with the government? Who has to register and what happens with them to once they register? What happens if they don’t register?

Most adult, non-citizen males from the following countries have to register: Iran, Iraq, Syria, Sudan, Libya, Afghanistan, Bahrain, Algeria, Eritrea, Lebanon, North Korea, Morocco, Oman, Qatar, Somalia, Tunisia, Yemen, UAE, Pakistan, Saudi Arabia, Bangladesh, Indonesia, Egypt, Jordan, Kuwait. Of the 82,000 who registered, some 13,000 are now facing deportation in what makes for the biggest mass deportation of immigrants since the Palmer Raids following World War I. Those who don’t register also face deportation.

I am a U.S. citizen, do I really need to worry about any of these new anti-terrorism laws, they seem to focus only on immigrants?

The Justice Department is pushing for a vast expansion of the Patriot Act. Known as the Domestic Security Enhancement Act of 2003, or Patriot II, the bill would give the government unprecedented authority to strip the citizenship of Americans believed to support terrorist organizations.

According to the bill, a U.S. citizen can be stripped of citizenship if he or she “becomes a member of, or provides material support to, a group that the United States has designated as a ‘terrorist organization,’ if that group is engaged in hostilities against the United States.”

Can the government make secret arrests and detentions?

Yes. The federal court of appeals in Washington, D.C., ruled on June 17 that the Justice Department can secretly detain immigrants without ever publicly releasing their names, the reason for the arrests or the names of their attorneys.

Is protesting still legal?

Sometimes. In South Carolina Brett Bursey faces six months in jail and a $5,000 fine for holding up a sign that read “No War For Oil” outside a speech by President Bush. The charge? Threatening the safety of the president.

I have heard lots of protests about how the government detained thousands of immigrants after Sept. 11. What does the government say about it?

On June 2, the Justice Department released an internal study that found the FBI made little effort to distinguish between immigrants who were suspected of involvement of terrorism and those picked up on immigration charges. Some detainees were barred phone access preventing them from informing their family members or legal counsel about their situation. The report also criticized the FBI’s blanket “no bond” policy for immigrants held after Sept. 11. In addition, the report found, detainees in Brooklyn suffered verbal and physical abuse.

Of those picked up after Sept. 11, how many have been charged with crimes related to terrorism?

One. Of the detainees, only Zacarias Moussaoui has been charged with crimes related to terrorism. 500 have been deported. The remaining detainees are either awaiting deportation or are being charged with lesser crimes.

Mike Burke contributed to this report

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