Tell your members of Congress to stand up for your rights!
Demand your senators and representative uphold constitutional rights by taking the following actions:
- Vote against any bill reauthorizing the USA PATRIOT Act unless it includes amendments to restore free speech.
- Cosponsor the JUSTICE Act to stop abuses under the PATRIOT Act.
The PATRIOT Act should not be reauthorized until meaningful privacy and civil liberties protections are added. Here’s why:
The PATRIOT Act powers scheduled to expire this year don’t actually make us safer.
The government has done a fine job of addressing terrorism without the vast and unchecked powers of the PATRIOT Act. Some provisions (e.g., the “lone wolf” powers set to expire in May) have never even been used in the decade since the PATRIOT Act was first enacted, and others have repeatedly faced criticism from internal government watchdogs about recurring abuses. Why sacrifice the privacy of law-abiding Americans for powers that aren't even needed?
Congress has a constitutional responsibility to correct PATRIOT Act abuses.
Congress's job includes a constitutional responsibility to check and balance the Executive Branch. Internal government watchdogs have already documented tens of thousands of abuses of PATRIOT Act powers under both the Bush and Obama administrations—and these abuses have never been addressed or corrected. Congress should insist on long overdue reforms before writing the intelligence agencies yet another blank check.
Congress has an institutional interest in stopping abuses under the PATRIOT Act.
The House leadership favors permanent reauthorization of the PATRIOT Act. If privacy and civil liberties protections aren’t added now, Congress will shackle itself and severely limit its oversight opportunities in the future. Permanent reauthorization would also allow the Executive Branch to continue and expand documented abuses under administrations from both political parties.
Grassroots supporters of both Democrats and Republicans oppose the PATRIOT Act.
Opposing the PATRIOT Act—by supporting the JUSTICE Act—is one way for members of Congress to gain support from across the political spectrum. Americans from all walks of life—and both major political parties—share serious concerns about the PATRIOT Act, but few in either party are passionate supporters of unchecked government authority to abuse the rights of Americans.
Opposing the PATRIOT Act demonstrates that members of Congress are listening to their constituents—instead of the Washington establishment.
If any theme has dominated the last several elections, it is that voters distrust elected officials who take their cues from inside DC rather than their constituents. Both parties are now dominated by populists who want their elected officials to place the people’s needs before the government’s. Voting to stop abuses under the PATRIOT Act will send that message loud and clear.
Stopping PATRIOT Act excesses will reduce spending and help balance the federal budget.
By authorizing expensive government investigations without adequate controls, the PATRIOT Act not only violates the Constitution, but also inflates the federal budget. At a time when states are laying off teachers and struggling to stay afloat, we should make sure that intelligence agencies spend their money wisely, instead of inviting them to pursue massive dragnet investigations at the taxpayers’ expense.
The Judicious Use of Surveillance Tools In Counterterrorism Efforts (JUSTICE) Act would reform the USA PATRIOT Act, the FISA Amendments Act and other surveillance authorities to protect Americans' constitutional rights, while preserving the powers of our government to fight terrorism.
The JUSTICE Act includes:
- revisions to the "material support" standard upheld in the Humanitarian Law Project v. Holder case in 2010, to require that prosecutors prove that defendants knowingly intended their support to further violent extremism.
- more effective checks on government searches of Americans' personal records, the "sneak and peek" search provision of the PATRIOT Act, "John Doe" roving wiretaps, and other overbroad authorities
- better oversight of the use of national security letters (NSLs) as repeatedly recommended by the Department of Justice's Inspector General in reports detailing recurring and widespread misuse and abuse of NSLs.
- reforms to the FISA Amendments Act of 2008 to prevent bulk collection of the contents of Americans' international communications, repeal the provision granting retroactive immunity to telecommunications companies that may have facilitated widespread violations of constitutional rights, and prohibit "reverse targeting" of innocent Americans.
Further, the JUSTICE Act can move on its own timeline. It is a proposed act of Congress separate from the PATRIOT Act, so even if the expiring provisions of the PATRIOT Act are ultimately reauthorized, Congress could still pass the JUSTICE Act before the end of the congressional session and stop the worst ongoing abuses of the PATRIOT Act and the 2008 FISA amendments.
While the 2011 version of the JUSTICE Act has yet to be introduced, it is currently under development and is awaiting cosponsors. In the Senate, interested members of Congress can contact Senator Jon Tester (D-MT). In the House, contact Rep. Rush Holt (D-NJ).