Tuesday, August 09, 2005

Parts of Patriot Act are offensive-lawyers group


Parts of Patriot Act are offensive-lawyers group

By Andrew Stern

CHICAGO (Reuters) - The president-elect of the nation's largest lawyers group on Monday said some of the federal government's investigative powers included in the anti-terrorism Patriot Act are a threat to constitutional rights.

Michael Greco criticized aspects of the act, passed to bolster security after the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks, at the American Bar Association convention, where U.S. Attorney General Alberto Gonzales urged the U.S. Congress to renew it.

"We support the (Bush) administration in its efforts to secure the nation but we have taken policy positions, four or five of them, where we think due process has not been followed," Greco said in an interview with Reuters.

He criticized exceptions the law makes to the constitution's privacy protections that give law enforcement the power to search a home without the homeowner's knowledge and without a judge-approved search warrant.

"The ABA position is that some of these provisions are so invasive of individual liberties that there has to be a sunset provision. They're offensive, I think, to democracy," Greco said.

Members of a conference committee in Congress seeking to reconcile competing versions of the law's renewal are debating whether to include a four-year or 10-year "sunset" clause that would allow some of those provisions to expire.

In his address, Gonzales insisted the Patriot Act was essential to fighting terrorism and accused critics of clouding the debate with "a litany of misstatements and half-truths."

"We are fighting terrorism with the tools and techniques provided for in the Patriot Act, tools that have long been available to fight crime," he said. "We are doing this in a manner that protects individual rights and liberties.

"We are not interested in the reading habits of ordinary citizens (and) we are subject to the oversight of federal judges," Gonzales said, citing an oft-ridiculed provision that gives law enforcement powers to review library records and bookstore sales.

Although delegates to the group's annual convention did not single out President Bush, several resolutions appeared aimed at administration stances.

The group, which represents more than 400,000 attorneys, judges and law students, passed by unanimous voice vote a resolution calling for respect for judges.

Bush, for instance, has complained in the past about "activist judges" whose rulings have allowed gays to marry and otherwise angered conservatives. An outcry led by House Majority Leader Tom DeLay also followed judicial rulings in the right-to-die case involving Terri Schiavo, the brain-dead Florida woman whose former husband ultimately succeeded in having her feeding tube removed.

ABA delegates this week were expected to approve a halt to a perceived erosion of attorney-client privilege and a federal shield law for reporters seeking to protect their sources.