[Mb-civic]      Judge Rules Against Patriot Act Provision

Michael Butler michael at michaelbutler.com
Wed Sep 29 16:38:32 PDT 2004

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    Judge Rules Against Patriot Act Provision
    By Gail Appleson

     Wednesday 29 September 2004

     NEW YORK - A key part of the Patriot Act, a central plank of the Bush
Administration's war on terror, was ruled unconstitutional by a federal
judge on Wednesday, in the latest blow to U.S. security policies.

     U.S. District Judge Victor Marreo ruled in favor of the American Civil
Liberties Union, which challenged the power the FBI has to demand
confidential financial records from companies that it can obtain without
court approval as part of terrorism investigations.

     The legislation bars companies and other recipients of these subpoenas
from ever revealing that they received the FBI demand for records. Marreo
held that this permanent ban was a violation of free speech rights.

     In his ruling, Marreo prohibited the Department of Justice and the FBI
from issuing special administrative subpoenas, known as national security
letters. But he delayed enforcement of his judgment pending an expected
appeal by the government. The Department of Justice said it was reviewing
the ruling.

     The ruling was the latest blow to the Bush administration's
anti-terrorism policies.

     In June, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled that terror suspects being held
in U.S. facilities like Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, can use the American judicial
system to challenge their confinement. That ruling was a defeat for the
president's assertion of sweeping powers to hold "enemy combatants"
indefinitely after the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks.

     The FBI first received power to get customer records in 1986
legislation, but its power to obtain confidential data was greatly expanded
by the Patriot Act -- a controversial law the Bush administration pushed
through Congress after the Sept. 11, 2001 attacks to help it battle

     The ACLU argued that the anti-terrorism laws give the FBI
unconstitutional power to demand sensitive information without adequate

     The judge agreed, saying the provision "effectively bars or
substantially deters any judicial challenge."

     "Such a challenge is necessary to vindicate important rights guaranteed
by the Constitution," Marreo said.

     Under the provision, the FBI does not have to show a judge a compelling
need for the records nor does it have to specify any process that would
allow a recipient to fight the demand for confidential information.

     Prior to December, the letters could only be sent to certain financial

     However, legislation signed by President Bush in December expanded the
definition of companies from which information can be obtained and allowed
FBI agents to send out the letters without first obtaining a judge's

     The legislation allows the FBI to seek information from businesses such
as insurance firms, pawnbrokers, precious metal dealers, the Postal Service,
casinos, and travel agents.



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