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Patriot Act Changes Urged

February 9, 2011

MANCHESTER, N. H. - Critics of the Patriot Act, passed in the wake of the 9/11 attacks, say certain provisions of the law need to be amended, because they run counter to the individual liberties spelled out in the Constitution.

Zachery Heiden, a New England civil liberties advocate, says he's interested in seeing how some new members of Congress vote on this issue - the ones who insisted on reading the Constitution on the first day of the session.

"All members of Congress – new and old, right and left – who care about the Constitution, should be concerned about reauthorizing these provisions of the Patriot Act, because they're contrary to our core constitutional values."

One part of the Act up for reauthorization that Heiden and others consider objectionable is the controversial library records provision. He says it allows the government to look into what citizens are reading, without reasonable suspicion or probable cause.

The Act's supporters say threats remains real and the Patriot Act is a valuable anti-terrorism tool. Heiden says he knows no one who argues the Patriot Act is no longer necessary.

"But people have been arguing, and I will argue with them, that the Patriot Act – as it was drafted and passed and re-passed – was a flawed piece of legislation and needs to be fixed before it is reauthorized."

Heiden notes the Act was opposed initially by a coalition of groups ranging from gun owners to library associations.

"Most people recognize that the government has no business snooping around in peoples' library records, looking into what books people are reading. The Patriot Act, as it is written now, allows for this wide open 'fishing expedition,' which really goes too far."

He argues the three expiring provisions of the Patriot Act give the government sweeping authority to spy on individuals inside the United States, in some cases without any suspicion of wrongdoing.

Mark Scheerer, Public News Service - NH