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High Court To Take Up Case Involving Part of Patriot Act

supreme court sealThe Supreme Court has agreed to hear a case challenging a law that treats human rights advocates as criminal terrorists, and threatens them with 15 years in prison for advocating nonviolent means to resolve disputes.

The case is known as Holder v. Humanitarian Law Project, and is the first case to challenge a portion of the Patriot Act before the Supreme Court. The case, originally brought in 1998,  challenges the constitutionality of the law that makes it a crime to provide “material support” to groups the administration has designated as “terrorist.”

The plaintiffs, led by the Center for Constitutional Rights (CCR), charge that the law goes too far in making speech advocating lawful, nonviolent activity a crime.  The lower courts have unanimously declared several provisions of the law – including one added by the Patriot Act – unconstitutionally vague because they encompass speech and force citizens to guess as to their meaning.

The case challenges those aspects of the “material support” statute that criminalize pure speech – specifically the prohibitions on providing “training,” “personnel,” “expert advice or assistance,” and “service.”  Under the law, any speech that falls within these terms – no matter how peaceable and nonviolent – is a crime if communicated to, for, or with the collaboration of any organization placed on a list of “foreign terrorist organizations” maintained by the State Department.

Said CCR Cooperating Attorney David Cole, a law professor at the Georgetown University Law Center, “This statute is so sweeping that it treats human rights advocates as criminal terrorists, and threatens them with 15 years in prison for advocating nonviolent means to resolve disputes. In our view, the First Amendment does not permit the government to make advocating human rights or other lawful, peaceable activity a crime simply because it is done for the benefit of, or in conjunction with, a group the Secretary of State has blacklisted.”

The lower courts held unconstitutionally vague the law’s prohibition on the provision of “services,” “expert advice or assistance,” and “training,” reasoning that these terms could easily encompass a wide range of lawful speech, such as providing training in international law.  The Obama administration sought Supreme Court review of that decision.

The Patriot Act added a prohibition on the provision of “expert advice or assistance” to the statute.  After earlier court decisions declared that and other parts of the statute unconstitutional, Congress amended it in 2004 to try to correct the infirmities.  However, the district court and court of appeals concluded that the prohibitions on “services,” “expert advice and assistance,” and “training” remained unconstitutionally vague. The court of appeals decision the administration is seeking review of is the sixth ruling from the lower courts since 1998 finding significant parts of the material support statute to be unconstitutionally vague.

Meanwhile, committees of the U.S. Senate and House of Representatives continue to debate three provisions of the USA Patriot Act that are due to expire on December 31.

The expiring provisions are the roving wiretap authority, the so-called “section 215” business records orders, and the nicknamed “lone wolf” provision.

The roving wiretap authority expands the authority of the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court (FISC) by allowing it to order “roving” or multi-point surveillance. Previously, the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act (FISA) required a separate FISC authorization to tap each device a target used.

Section 215’s reference to Business Records substantially revised the authority under FISA for seizure of business records, including third party records of individuals’ transactions and activities. Previously, the FBI could apply to the FISC for an order to seize business records of hotels, motels, car and truck rental agencies, and storage rental facilities. Section 215 broadened that authority by eliminating any limitation on the types of businesses or entities whose records may be seized. The recipient of the order may not disclose the fact that the FBI has sought or obtained records.

The nicknamed “Lone Wolf” authorization allows intelligence gathering of people not suspected of being part of a foreign government or known terrorist organization. This authority removed the requirement that an individual needed to be an agent of a foreign power to be placed under surveillance by intelligence officials and permitted surveillance of individuals with a much lower evidentiary threshold than allowed under criminal surveillance procedures. It was intended to allow the surveillance of individuals believed to be doing the bidding of foreign governments or terrorist organizations, even when the evidence of that connection was lacking.

The Justice Department maintains that the “lone wolf” authority is necessary, even though there is no evidence that it has been used. Its opponents believe that existing authorities are sufficient to achieve the goals of the lone wolf provision while more effectively protecting the rights of innocent Americans.

The Obama Administration has quietly endorsed the reauthorization of the provisions due to expire. The Senate Judiciary Committee has voted to make only minor changes to these measures, while the House of Representatives Judiciary Committee is seeking far more sweeping reforms.

The new legislation proposed by the House committee would permit the so-called “lone wolf” provision to sunset. It would also restrict the use of National Security Letters (NSLs). According to a Congressional Research Service report, NSLs “are roughly comparable to administrative subpoenas. Intelligence agencies issue them for intelligence gathering purposes to telephone companies, Internet service providers, consumer credit reporting agencies, banks, and other financial institutions, directing the recipients to turn over certain customer records and similar information.”

Under current law, intelligence agencies have few restrictions on the use of NSLs, and in numerous cases, have abused the authority. An FBI inspector general report in 2007 “found that the FBI used NSLs in violation of applicable NSL statutes, Attorney General Guidelines, and internal FBI policies.” The reform provisions seek to create greater judicial scrutiny of NSL use.

A jittery Congress passed The Patriot Act by a landslide 45 days after the 9/11 terrorist attacks with virtually no debate. It provides law enforcement and intelligence agencies with sweeping additional powers to thwart terrorist activities. The law was reauthorized in 2005.

The legislation has been criticized by many from across the ideological spectrum as a threat to civil liberties, privacy and democratic traditions. Sections of the original act have been ruled unconstitutional, with certain provisions violating protected rights.

Among its most outspoken critics is Chip Pitts, president of the Bill of Rights Defense Committee. He told us, “In the eight years since passage of the original Patriot Act, it’s become clear that the escalating political competition to appear tough on terror — and avoid being accused of being “soft on terror” — brings perceived electoral benefits with few costs, with vital but fragile civil liberties being easily sacrificed.”

He added, “President Obama’s flip-flop on Patriot Act issues does as much damage as did his flip-flop on the FISA Amendments Act and telecom immunity last year. But it’s imperative that we fight, while we still can, to comprehensively reinsert requirements for fact-based, individualized suspicion, checks and balances, and meaningful judicial review prior to government intrusions.”

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6 Responses for “High Court To Take Up Case Involving Part of Patriot Act”

  1. All

    The ACLU has compiled a report concerning this:

    http://www.aclu.org/pdfs/safefree/patriot_report_20090310.pdf

    What You Should Know

    Despite the many amendments to these laws since 9/11, congress and the public have yet to receive real information about how these powerful tools are being used to collect information on Americans and how that information is being used. All of these laws work together to create a surveillance superstructure – and Congress must understand how it really works to create meaningful protections for civil liberties.

    The ACLU’s recent report, Reclaiming Patriotism, provides more information on parts of the Patriot Act that need to be amended.

    National Security Letters (NSLs). The FBI uses NSLs to compel internet service providers, libraries, banks, and credit reporting companies to turn over sensitive information about their customers and patrons. Using this data, the government can compile vast dossiers about innocent people. Government reports confirm that upwards of 50,000 of these secret record demands go out each year. In response to an ACLU lawsuit (Doe v. Holder), the Second Circuit Court of Appeal struck down as unconstitutional the part of the NSL law that gives the FBI the power to prohibit NSL recipients from telling anyone that the government has secretly requested customer Internet records.

    Material Support Statute. This provision criminalizes providing “material support” to terrorists, defined as providing any tangible or intangible good, service or advice to a terrorist or designated group. As amended by the Patriot Act and other laws since September 11, this section criminalizes a wide array of activities, regardless of whether they actually or intentionally further terrorist goals or organizations. Federal courts have struck portions of the statute as unconstitutional and a number of cases have been dismissed or ended in mistrial.

    FISA Amendments Act of 2008. This past summer, Congress passed a law to permit the government to conduct warrantless and suspicion-less dragnet collection of U.S. residents’ international telephone calls and e-mails. This too must be amended to provide meaningful privacy protections and judicial oversight of the government’s intrusive surveillance power.

    This is an important issue we all need to pay close attention to.

    (((3)))

  2. Lida Shafaghat says:

    I AM NOT AMERICAN . I HAVE NEVER BEEN IN THE UNITED STATES. i HAVE NOTHING TO DO WITH POLITICS. BY THE WAY THIS ARTCLE IS TOO DIFFICULT TO UNDERSTAND FOR ME . IT SEEMS TO BE A SET UP TO HIDE SOMETHING. wHAT IS IT ALL ABOUT ? iS IT TO PUT DEVICES INSIDE PEOPLE’S BODY TO FORCE THEM OR TO STEAL INFORMATION FROM THEM , THIS COSTING THEIR HEALTH AND THEIR LIFE .THEN LABLING THEM AS TERRORIST BECAUSE OF HAVING FLIED BY AN IRANIAN AIRLINE ONCE ;LIKE MANY OTHERS , WITH THE OBLIGATORY EYE PRINT WHILE I HAD COME BY MY OWN EXPENSES ( MY LITTLE BUDGET ) FOR SCIENTIFIC INTEREST ALONGSIDE TO EVALUATE MY CHANCES FOR THE POSSIBILITY OF POSTGRADUATE MEDICAL STUDIES in U.S BY ASKING A SIMPLE QUESTION FROM the chief academic officer or a high profile intensivist . I AM NOT INTERESTED AT ALL ANYMORE to study in United states , YES I ALWAYS CONSIDER AUSTRALIA THE CENTER OF EXCELLENCE IN HEARING RESEARCH AND A SPECIAL INSTITUTE THE CENTER OF EARTH IN THE FIELD , IF THIS HAS BOTHERED HARVARD OR ANY OTHER AMERICAN INSTITUTION , I AM SORRY FOR THEIR NARROW VISION .THIS IS THE TRUTH NOBODY CAN DENY , INTELLIGENCE AND KNOWLEDGE COMES FIRST , MONEY IS THE SECOND , IT IS JUST A TOOL. The conferences in dubai WERE MEDICAL SCIENTIFIC CONFERENCES . WEREN’T THEY ? FINALLY WHO HAS TORTURED ME AND HAS DEPRIVED ME OF MEDICAL CARE , THIS IS A HUGE CRIME , YOU KNOW ? BE CLEAR AND HONEST . i AM A WOMAN , NOT A MAN , i AM NOT OBESE , i AM A BEAUTIFUL MIDDLE -AGED LADY WHO HAS HAD A DIFFICULT LIFE AND NATURALLY LIKES TO FURTHER HER EDUCATION . i DESREVED MORE BUT i WAS DOING MY BEST AND WAS REMARKABLE WITHIN THE SITUATION I HAD GONE THROUGH . WHAT IS THE REALITY BEHIND ? i AM SICK OF THIS CONSPIRACY . THIS PAGE IS PART OF IT AS I UNDERSTAND . STOP IT . I NEED MEDICAL CARE AND THE DAMGES HAS TO BE COMPENSTAED . ALL IS REVEALED ENOUGH . NOBODY CAN DENY . GET AWAY FROM ME . I HAVE ALWAYS LIKED A CALM BEAUTIFUL SCIENTIFIC LIFE.

  3. Lida shafaghat says:

    I would be grateful if you would kindly omit all my commments from the beginning up to this messsage . I didn’t mean my messages became public and my name linked to this information . I have nothing to do with .
    Thank you very much in advance .

  4. lida shafaghat says:

    I am insisting in what I asked before ; deleting all my comments related to this problem . I am just an ordinary person .
    Thanks

  5. Warren says:

    http://www.911missinglinks.com/

    Just found info in Patriot Act
    We think Michael Chertcoff (Dual Israeli/US citizen) wrote it, not John Ashcroft.

    Inside the Patriot Act, a provision gives immunity to ANY Israeli against litigation related to 9/11

    If the public knew this, there would be an uprising against the Act….

    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Osp1873RdPg

    http://www.facebook.com/conspiracywatchdog

  6. I have been interrigated by way of dissemination technologys that enter the pores and interstices in unabrided dictionarys this is being changed and Ive tried to get a attorney can,t find one FAX the US attorneys office and they wont barify my FAX . the justice department does return my messages,I had to go to court on a conspiracy case in kansas city mo I ask for warrentless surveillence relief and they said there wasnt a surveillence submitted warrentless isnt submitted,DUMBASS, the technology is a physical/mental link and dissemination collection systemsfalls under military weapon system.

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