- The Washington Times - Tuesday, September 11, 2001

A broad coalition of conservative and civil liberties groups wants assurances that the Bush administration's war on drugs will respect constitutional rights and the privacy of citizens.

Bringing together such diverse groups as the American Civil Liberties Union and the social conservative Eagle Forum, the ad-hoc Coalition for Constitutional Liberties has asked the Senate Judiciary Committee to question President Bush's top drug-policy nominee on issues of electronic surveillance and other law-enforcement tactics that they say violate citizens' Fourth Amendment rights.

In a letter to the committee, the coalition led by the Free Congress Foundation asks that John Walters nominated as director of the Office of National Drug Control Policy by Mr. Bush be questioned during confirmation hearings today about his views on how "drug policy drives government surveillance and invasion of privacy."

"As a taxpayers' group, we don't like the idea of paying the government to abuse our rights," Robert Fike of Americans for Tax Reform said at a press conference yesterday announcing the coalition, which neither supports nor opposes Mr. Walters' nomination.

"America is fast becoming a nation where private citizens live in terror not of the drug lords, but of those empowered to protect the innocent," said Tom DeWeese of the American Policy Center.

The coalition includes some groups that have endorsed the decriminalization of drugs, such as the Libertarian Party, as well as many others, such as the California Christian Coalition, whose members support continuing anti-drug efforts but are concerned about the potential dangers of federal surveillance.

In the letter to the Senate Judiciary Committee, the coalition complained about law enforcement technologies like the FBI's Carnivore system for secretly reading private e-mail, as well as about abuse of asset forfeiture laws and proposed regulations requiring banks to report "suspicious activities."

Three-quarters of all telephone wiretaps are authorized for narcotics investigations, the coalition said.

Even Amtrak has become involved in the drug war, the coalition said, citing an April report that the nation's passenger rail service had provided computerized information about its customers to federal drug agents.

Saying the drug war has led to "law enforcement out of control," Mr. DeWeese gave what he considered examples of citizens' rights being abused:

•Banks are required to report to federal authorities any customer conducting large cash transactions.

•Airline passengers are detained and questioned if they carry large amounts of cash, and passengers purchasing tickets with cash are subjected to surveillance.

•Police are being trained to use "massive fire power" against suspected drug dealers, "breaking into homes … based on tips from suspicious informants." In some cases, police targeting drug dealers have attacked and killed innocent people by mistake.

•Public schools enforcing "zero tolerance" policies against drugs have suspended children for bringing aspirin to school.

Calling Clinton administration reports of success in the war on drugs "propaganda," Eric Sterling of the Criminal Justice Policy Foundation said that drug policy has become "a partisan political football."

"The war on drugs is much more valuable to politicians than to the public," Mr. Sterling said.

Mr. Fike, of Americans for Tax Reform, said: "We expect Walters to be confirmed and wish him luck because he's going to need it."

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