- The Washington Times - Monday, May 2, 2005

Civil libertarians in Northern Virginia are decrying a study conducted by Fairfax County officials that asserts that the USA Patriot Act has only positive effects on the county.

Many residents want Fairfax County to join Alexandria, Arlington County, Takoma Park and the District, all of which have passed resolutions denouncing the act and promising to uphold the civil liberties of residents.

“It was wrong-headed to do a study on how Fairfax County government agencies would be affected. The whole point is it targets the citizens of the county,” said Mona Hamoui, a Falls Church resident who works with the local chapter of the American-Arab Anti-Discrimination Committee.

Then-U.S. Attorney General John Ashcroft introduced the Patriot Act shortly after the September 11, 2001, terrorist attacks. The act gives authorities more power to investigate terrorism and to detain suspects.

Miss Hamoui, who is Lebanese, said since the terrorist attacks, Arab Americans have been discriminated against and, in some cases, subjected to violence. She also said many other county residents are worried that their civil liberties are being violated because the Patriot Act allows federal authorities to access patrons’ reading lists at bookstores and libraries.

Such concerns prompted Fairfax County Supervisor Catherine M. Hudgins, Hunter Mill District Democrat, to ask the county Board of Supervisors last year to pass a resolution that criticized the act as an encroachment on constitutional rights.

Instead, the board voted 5-3 to order county officials to study the effects of the act. Some supervisors had said they were worried about passing a resolution because they had not read the Patriot Act, which is several hundred pages long.

Fairfax County Executive Anthony H. Griffin recently wrote the county board a letter explaining that the effects of the Patriot Act have been positive for Fairfax County.

In that letter, Mr. Griffin wrote that the county has secured millions of dollars in federal grants and has experienced better communication with federal agencies.

“The overwhelming majority of county agencies reported no impacts,” he wrote. “County departments reported only positive effects resulting from the USA Patriot Act, mostly in the form of substantial money grants.”

Mr. Griffin added that the benefits of the act “will almost certainly extend beyond the intended purposes of terrorism prevention and will enhance basic public safety within the county.”

Mr. Griffin and Mrs. Hudgins did not return calls seeking comment yesterday.

Members of the Fairfax County Bill of Rights Coalition want the board to pass a general resolution that affirms the importance of civil liberties.

“We don’t believe saying you support civil liberties is going to stop the county from getting federal grants to fight terrorism or crime,” said Sandra J. Klassen, of Reston. “We think you can be safe and free.”

Ms. Klassen, an international education consultant, works with the Fairfax County Democratic Committee. She classifies the resolution her group wants passed as a “very mild” statement that would “give the community a sense of support.”

Ms. Klassen said, for example, that the group specifically opposes the “sneak and peek” provision that allows federal authorities to invade residences and seize computer data without notification.

“These things are very invasive and intimidating,” she said. “I want them to look into the impact on residents.”

She also made a point to praise the board for the work it has done in the community.

Miss Hamoui said the passage of the Patriot Act has led to racial profiling, job discrimination, the use of racial slurs and attacks on Muslims in Fairfax County.

She said she was frustrated that the supervisors never mentioned the more than 300 e-mail messages sent by civil libertarians over the course of the yearlong debate.

“We’re the people with the power, we’re the people who elected them to be in those positions and we are their bosses,” she said, praising Mrs. Hudgins. “They should be listening.”

Passing the resolutions denouncing the Patriot Act is largely symbolic. About 379 localities — including New York, Baltimore and Philadelphia — have passed similar resolutions, according to Web sites, such as that of the American Civil Liberties Union, that track this information.

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