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ACLU Says Patriot Act Unconstitutional

December 4, 2003

DETROIT (AP) _ The USA Patriot Act gives federal agents unlimited and unconstitutional authority to secretly seize library reading lists and other personal records, civil liberties advocates told a judge.

A U.S. district judge in Detroit heard arguments Wednesday in the first legal challenge to the part of the Patriot Act that lets agents obtain such things as library lists and medical information.

The American Civil Liberties Union filed the lawsuit in July on behalf of the Muslim Community Association of Ann Arbor and five other nonprofit groups. The U.S. government argued that the case be dismissed, saying there is no basis for the plaintiffs’ complaints since the provision being challenged has never been used.

Judge Denise Page Hood said she would issue a written opinion on the government’s motion but did not say when.

The lawsuit names Attorney General John Ashcroft and FBI Director Robert Mueller as defendants.

The ACLU says that Section 215 of the Patriot Act, which allows the FBI access to any ``tangible things,″ including books and documents obtained through an order from a secret court, does not require investigators to show probable cause.

A permanent gag order on all Section 215 orders means that people whose records are obtained from a third party would never find out about it, the ACLU says.

Ann Beeson, the ACLU’s associate legal director, told the court that the range of things that could be sought under the Patriot Act was ``limitless.″

``It could even be used to demand a personal journal from an individual,″ she said.

The FBI must request a Section 215 order from the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court, a secret body set up in 1978 to govern the surveillance of foreign powers and alleged foreign agents.

The government says that the law does not violate the Fourth Amendment because the right to privacy does not apply to information or personal belongings that have been given to third parties even if there is an understanding of confidentiality.

Justice Department lawyer Brian Boyle said that anyone served with a Section 215 order would have the right to object before the foreign intelligence court before complying.

Beeson said the law’s language gives no indication that someone could object and that doing so would be difficult because the secret court has no physical address.

The ACLU says its clients have already been hurt by the Patriot Act because fear of the law has kept many people from attending religious services and making charitable donations.

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