The American Civil Liberties Union of New Jersey (ACLU-NJ) applauded passage by the New Brunswick City Council of a resolution calling upon Congress to scrutinize the USA PATRIOT Act and the manner in which its enforcement may imperil civil liberties.
The pro-civil liberties resolution makes New Brunswick the fifteenth municipality in New Jersey to register criticism of the federal government’s controversial USA PATRIOT Act.
The Resolution calls upon the U.S. government and the government of each and every state to affirm their respect for individual rights and civil liberties and not intrude upon fundamental rights and liberties, even as they are committed to preserving national security.
Congress passed the USA PATRIOT Act just 45 days after the September 11 attacks, with virtually no debate. This 342-page piece of legislation allows for the broadest expansion of police and law enforcement powers in the recent history of our country. Some of the most troubling provisions of the Act enable the FBI to access private records, including medical records, library records and student records, without the need for a warrant or establishing probable cause that a crime has occurred or is about to occur. A “gag provision” within the Act makes it so that the person searched may never learn that he or she has been the subject of government surveillance.
In the more than three years since the passage of the Act, seven states and more than 380 cities and towns have adopted resolutions condemning the Act’s civil liberties abuses. Courts have declared some of its provisions unconstitutional. And, numerous lawmakers, Republicans and Democrats alike, have condemned some of the Act’s most far-reaching provisions and have called for closer scrutiny into how the government uses its expanded powers.
The New Brunswick resolution and the debate around the Act comes at a critical time, as sixteen provisions of the USA PATRIOT Act are scheduled to sunset on December 31, 2005, unless re-authorized by Congress. The Senate Intelligence Committee announced on May 17, 2005 that it is rushing forward with a markup of Patriot Act reauthorization legislation Thursday, but that the session will be behind closed doors.
“One reason that people across the political spectrum are concerned about the Patriot Act is that so much of it is shrouded in secrecy. Many provisions are implemented secretly, and the government has kept secret key information on how it is being used. Now, lawmakers are trying to keep legislation to reauthorize the Patriot Act secret as well,” said Deborah Jacobs, Executive Director of the American Civil Liberties union of New Jersey. She continued, “I commend the city council of New Brunswick for taking a stand to ensure that we remain both safe and free.”
In New Brunswick, a coalition of organizations and New Brunswick residents concerned about the threats to checks and balances, the increase in racial and ethnic profiling and the erosion of civil liberties called the New Brunswick Bill of Rights Defenders (NBBORD) had formed to approach the New Brunswick City Council to adopt a resolution, like those adopted by other municipalities.
However, the City Council drafted its own resolution, which it voted on and adopted on May 18, 2005.
“As a third generation New Brunswick native, a retired owner of a century old New Brunswick based business, as well as a Rutgers alumnus, I am proud that the City Council of New Brunswick has publicly stepped forward and unanimously passed a resolution in support of the US Constitution and our Bill of Rights,” said Jeffrey Aaron, a member of NBBORD.
“The Latino community in New Brunswick has more than doubled in the last 10 years according to census figures. As a resident of New Brunswick for well over 20 years, I applaud, commend and thank the New Brunswick City Council for their prompt and impressive response on behalf of our community on this issue,” said Cuqui Rivera, Outreach Manager at the Hispanic Directors Association of New Jersey and a member of NBBORD. “As a member of the Middlesex County Human Relations Commission as well, we are also working right now to pass a similar Resolution as soon as possible.”
More information about the USA PATRIOT Act, about the various communities that have passed resolutions, and other information about the expansion of executive powers since September 11 can be found at: http://www.aclu.org/safeandfree.