- The Washington Times - Tuesday, March 22, 2005

Leading conservative and liberal groups are combining forces to defeat reauthorization of Patriot Act sections that they call intrusive with unchecked powers that leaves a chilling effect on privacy and civil liberties.

The Patriots to Restore Checks and Balances is an alliance of organizations and will be chaired by Bob Barr, former Georgia Republican congressman and a leading critic of the act.

The groups joining forces to lobby Congress and President Bush against extending parts of the act are Americans for Tax Reform, American Conservative Union, American Association of Physicians and Surgeons, American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU), American Policy Center, Citizens’ Committee for the Right to Keep and Bear Arms, Eagle Forum, Free Congress Foundation and the Second Amendment Foundation.

“There is no doubt the Patriot Act is necessary to provide law enforcement with the tools it needs to defeat terrorism,” Mr. Barr said. “But some of its powers just go too far, such as allowing federal agents to search your home and examine your possessions secretly and not inform you they’ve done so for an unlimited amount of time. Some parts of the law give the federal government far too much power, and the Constitution’s checks and balances are needed.

“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,” Mr. Barr said.

The provisions that will expire, or “sunset,” at the end of this year include Section 215, which allows federal agents to secretly collect records including medical documents, library records and firearm purchases without specific evidence linking a person to foreign agents, Mr. Barr said.

The Justice Department has said it needs the provisions to combat terrorism.

The network also wants Congress to repeal Section 213, which allows federal agents to secretly search homes, businesses and personal property without notice. Also on the group’s hit list is Section 802, which they say broadly defines domestic terrorism and could target people just exercising their First Amendment rights on issues across the political spectrum.

“Commitment to America’s freedoms transcends any political ideology,” said Laura Murphy, director of the ACLU legislative office. “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.”

Mr. Bush asked Congress during his State of the Union address to make the temporary Patriot Act powers permanent before the December deadline. A spokesman from the Justice Department didn’t return a call for comment.

Civil liberty resolutions against the Patriot Act have been passed by 375 cities in 43 states, representing more than 56 million people.

“What is at stake is Americans’ Fourth Amendment freedoms guaranteed by our Constitution. All Americans, particularly those in Congress and the administration, must recognize the need to preserve checks and balances and bring the law in line with the Constitution,” said David Keene, chairman of the American Conservative Union.

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