A broad coalition of public policy organizations, law professors, technology professionals and common citizens kicked off a campaign to ensure that the "war against terrorism" does not become a war on hard-won American rights and liberties with a press conference at the National Press Club in downtown Washington Thursday.
"Americans should think carefully and clearly about the balance between national security and individual freedom, and we must acknowledge the fact that some will seek to restrict freedom for ideological and other reasons that have little to do with security," warned Anthony Romero, Executive Director of the American Civil Liberties Union.
The ACLU and an impressive list of more than 150 organizations of the left, right, and center -- from Amnesty International to the American Conservative Union, from the Baptist Joint Committee on Public Affairs to the Unitarian Universalist Association of Congregations, from the Criminal Justice Policy Foundation to Gun Owners of America, from the Free Congress Foundation to People for the American Way -- as well as more than 300 law professors and 40 computer scientists -- have come together around ten basic points in an effort to fend off post-attack security measure that threaten fundamental civil liberties.
The "In Defense of Freedom" declaration reads as follows:
Wade Henderson, Executive Director of the Leadership Conference on Civil Rights, told the press conference that history shows that civil rights and civil liberties fall before the imperatives of national security. "This coalition has been formed with the hope that the aftermath of last week's tragedy will be the exception," he said. "We must resist rash action conceived in the heat of national crisis. We must not compound this tragedy by infringing on the rights of Americans or persons guaranteed protections under the Constitution."
The coalition is particularly concerned with provisions of the hastily-drafted Anti-Terrorism Act of 2001 (available online at http://www.epic.org/privacy/terrorism/ata2001_text.pdf), which is being rapidly rushed through the Congress. Its wiretapping proposals, for example, seek to remove judges from the minimal oversight role they currently have. By calling for "nationwide" pen registers, which record phone numbers called, and trap and trace surveillance, the Justice Department is asking Congress to approve what the ACLU calls the equivalent of "a blank warrant in the physical world." Under this provision, a judge would issue the warrant and law enforcement would fill in the places to be searched. "This is not consistent with the Fourth Amendment privacy protection of requiring that warrants specify the place to be searched," the ACLU noted.
Saying that law enforcement already possesses broad authority for wiretaps and has a history of abusing that authority, the ACLU warned lawmakers to "be extra careful not to upset the careful balance between law enforcement and civil liberties. These amendments were adopted with little debate in the middle of the night."
One of the participants in the coalition, the conservative Free Congress Foundation, had earlier organized a letter (on September 10), under the umbrella of the "Coalition for Constitutional Liberties" asking the Senate Judiciary Committee to consider certain issues in its deliberations over the nomination of John Walters as drug czar. Saying the coalition was 'concerned that the war on drugs has degraded our privacy and civil liberties," the letter asked the committee to consider raising the following privacy and civil liberties issues in connection with the Walters nomination: the use of new surveillance and investigative technologies, including the Carnivore/DCS1000 and Echelon systems, the "Know Your Customer" proposal of the Financial Action Task Force, asset forfeiture abuses, racial profiling, wiretaps and the drug war's sometimes corrupting influence on law enforcement itself."
By the next day, the whole issue was subsumed within the broader concerns now abroad in the land as Congress works feverishly on proposals with unproven utility for improving security but strong risk of eroding civil liberties that have already been deeply undermined.
Free Congress has launched a companion web site -- http://www.defendyourfreedom.org -- which allows visitors to endorse the "In Defense of Freedom" declaration and send it to the president and Congress. A statement by the foundation in releasing it called the impulse to pit civil liberties against security a "false choice." The statement cited evidence that no criminal investigations have ever been thwarted by the use of encryption technology, and that a reliance on wiretapping and surveillance had come at the expense of the "human intelligence" that could infiltrate terrorist networks and the governments supporting them.
Two articles by Declan McCullagh in Wired News yesterday provide further information on the proposals currently in Congress and the civil liberties coalition: