'Who Will Guard the Guards?'
Coalition Protests Dangerous Anti-Terrorism Proposals: Calls for Preservation of Citizens' Fourth Amendment and Privacy Rights
Washington, DC (August 1, 1996) -- A broad coalition of organizations today called on Congress to reject renewed "counter-terrorism" proposals which would take away Americans' rights while giving dangerous new powers to federal law enforcement agencies.
The letter was drafted and signed by Gerald H. Goldstein and William B. Moffitt, the Immediate Past President and Treasurer of the National Association of Criminal Defense Lawyers (NACDL), Tanya K. Metaksa, Executive Director, National Rifle Association; Laura W. Murphy, Director of the Washington office of the American Civil Liberties Union; Marc Rotenberg, Director of the Electronic Privacy Information Center; James J. Fotis, Executive Director of the Law Enforcement Alliance of America; Alan M. Gottlieb and John M. Snyder, Chairman and Public Affairs Director, the Citizens Committee for the Right to Keep and Bear Arms; among others.
The White House/Congress "Terrorism Task Force" is considering a number of alarming and sweeping new powers for federal agents, who repeatedly show flagrant disregard for the rights of American citizens as amply documented in Congressional reports on the Waco and Ruby Ridge operations. Among the "anti-terrorism" -- in reality, "anti-American" -- proposals requested by the White House, and which the coalition protests include:
Expansion of multi-point ("roving") wiretap powers, in which federal agents may tap any telephone a surveillance subject might use, even telephones of friends, family, business associates and business establishments not suspected of any crime.
Authorization for federal agents to tap telephones for up to 48 hours without a court order.
Authorization for federal agents to routinely collect business records such as telephone records, hotel registrations, car rentals, and more, on individuals without a subpoena from a grand jury, nor even a reasonable indication of criminal behavior.
Government eavesdropping had become so much of a problem by the 1960s that Congress specifically outlined when, where, and how federal agents must conduct wiretap activity, in Title III of the Omnibus Crime Control and Safe Streets Act (18 U.S.C. 2510-2522). Other kinds of electronic surveillance, such as interception of faxes and electronic mail, were addressed by Congress in the Electronic Communication Privacy Act (18 U.S.C. 2510-2522, as amended in 1986). The legislation being contemplated would undo these statutory protections which carefully balance the government's need to know with the individual's right to privacy, through the checks and balances of neutral judicial oversight.
"Wiretapping proposals in the contemplated anti-terrorism legislation signal a disturbing retreat from this protection, especially in light of the fact that too many innocent conversations are already picked up in law enforcement wiretaps," the coalition said in its letter.
The coalition strongly urges Congress to reject these provisions. "These provisions would work an unwarranted expansion of federal law enforcement powers at the expense of civil liberties," the coalition's signers warned. That is why, in response to the clear will of the people, these same proposals were rejected by Congress just last April.
Neither of the two recent incidents which prompted the resurrection of these proposals has been shown to be an act of terrorism. Nor can it be shown that any of these measures would have prevented either of these events if they were.
If Congress surrenders Americans' fundamental liberties to federal law enforcement agencies which have demonstrated excessive and abusive disregard for the Bill of Rights time and time again, we wonder, as Juvenal did two thousand years ago, Sed quis custodiet ipsos custodes? -- "Who will guard the guards?"