Conservative group forms alliance, urges Bush, Congress to modify sections of the anti-terrorism law

March 23, 2005

WASHINGTON - Conservative libertarians launched a campaign yesterday to persuade President George W. Bush and Congress to fix the sections of the anti-terrorism Patriot Act that they say intrude on privacy and harm civil liberties.

Long wary of the act's enhanced police powers, the conservatives announced they had formed the organization Patriots for Checks and Balances with the liberal American Civil Liberties Union in time for hearings in the Republican-controlled Congress next month on whether it should renew 16 Patriot Act provisions that expire at year's end. At a news conference yesterday, ACLU Washington director Laura Murphy underscored the importance of raising the profile in the debate of such prominent conservatives as Grover Norquist of Taxpayers United, David Keene of the American Conservative Union and Paul Weyrich of the Free Congress Foundation.

"Given the number of folks in this room wearing elephant lapel pins, I don't think the administration can easily discount our message," said Murphy, referring to the symbol of the Republican Party.

Bush and new Attorney General Alberto Gonzales have said in recent speeches that one of their priorities this year is to win congressional renewal of all expiring sections of the controversial anti-terrorism law, enacted just weeks after the Sept. 11, 2001, terror attacks.

Bob Barr, the group's chair and a former Republican representative from Georgia who voted for the act in 2001, said the sunsetting of the provisions and the hearings in the House and Senate provide a "unique opportunity" to add checks and balances to the act. In a letter sent to the president yesterday, Barr and his group asked Bush "to reconsider your unqualified support" for three specific provisions, only one of which is set to expire without reauthorization.

Those are the so-called "sneak-and-peek" Section 213, which allows agents to enter a place without first notifying the owner; Section 215, which permits agents to get business and library records more easily; and Section 802, which broadly defines terrorists and terrorism. Section 215 is due to expire at the end of the year.

Barr and his group said that they find hope in Gonzales' remarks that he will be more open to discussion than his predecessor, John Ashcroft, who not only staunchly defended the act but sought to expand it.

Justice spokeswoman Tasia Scolinos said her agency "has spearheaded the call for active discussion and meaningful dialogue on the reauthorization of the Patriot Act."

The ACLU has worked with conservative libertarians for the past decade to insist on the inclusion of judicial review and other safeguards for privacy in anti-terrorism laws.

Last year, the ACLU paid Barr $150,000 to be a consultant and lobbyist, Senate records show. Barr says he also consults for the American Conservative Union.

Copyright © 2005, Newsday, Inc. For one of the best critiques of the Patriot Act see Jennifer Bergen's Twilight of Democracy