REFORM OF THE PATRIOT ACT: PROTECTING AMERICA AND THE RIGHTS OF ITS CITIZENS
The American Federation of Teachers has a long and distinguished history in defense of civil liberties. In 1951, an AFT convention resolution opposed loyalty oaths for teachers—both individually and by group. In 1984, a convention resolution included the following, " …no human being should be subjected to…arbitrary arrest, detention or exile; to interference with privacy, family, home or correspondence… the struggle for human rights AT HOME (emphasis added) and abroad must and will be a major concern of the American Federation of Teachers."
In light of numerous attacks on U.S. citizens both at home and abroad during the last decade, we recognize our government’s responsibility to protect its people and enhance security in a dangerous world. Federal, state and local governments have an obligation to protect the public from terrorist attacks, such as those that occurred on Sept. 11, 2001, but must do so in a rational and deliberative fashion in order to ensure that security measures enhance public safety without impairing constitutional rights or infringing on civil liberties.
There is no inherent conflict between national security and the preservation of liberty; Americans can be both safe and free. Security cannot and must not be achieved at the expense of basic civil liberties. Indeed, the protection of civil rights and civil liberties is essential to the well-being of a free and democratic society.
The Patriot Act was signed into law on Oct. 26, 2001, with little congressional review and virtually no public comment. In the days ahead, it is crucial that Congress engage in a significant program of open hearings before renewing the Patriot Act in order to ensure protection of civil liberties.
As interpreted by the Bush administration, certain provisions in the USA Patriot Act challenge fundamental rights and liberties. As interpreted by the Bush administration, the law allows indefinite detention of U.S. citizens as well as resident non-citizens at undisclosed locations, without charges, without access to lawyers, and without notification of the families of detainees. It limits the traditional authority of federal courts to curb law enforcement abuse of electronic surveillance in ordinary criminal investigations as well as in anti-terrorist activities. It grants law enforcement and intelligence agencies access to personal medical, financial, library and education records with little meaningful judicial oversight. It allows blanket interviews of members of groups (rather than selected interviews of targeted individuals) and violates the privacy of records—including student records at the K-12 and higher education levels, as well as investigation of library records.
Therefore, in defense of civil liberties as well as security, and in conformance with AFT’s traditional support for the maintenance of human and civil rights, the 2004 AFT convention resolves as follows:
I. WE SEEK TO PROTECT CIVIL LIBERTIES:
- CHECKS AND BALANCES in government are essential in a democratic society. Therefore, AFT supports every citizen’s right to use the courts to challenge governmental actions in pursuit of homeland security.
- PROTECTION OF PRIVACY makes it imperative to maintain federal and state privacy laws (particularly with respect to medical records).
- SECRET SEARCHES of information held by third parties without notice is an abridgement of the Fourth Amendment’s guarantee against unreasonable searches. As such, secret searches should only be allowed when an individual has already been identified as a suspected terrorist. Wholesale information searches are anathema to a democratic society. We call on Congress to amend the Patriot Act to ensure that before the government gains access to personal information, officials must prove to a judge that such inquiry involves a bona-fide investigation into terrorism or violent crime.
- EXPANDED SURVEILLANCE authority must focus on suspected terrorists, rather than including ordinary crime (where there is no substantive link to terrorism) as a justification for expanding investigations.
- PERSONAL DATA must not be linked with individual names unless such data indicates a significant link with terrorism or violent crimes. Specifically, the notion that librarians and hospital employees are being directed to turn over data that compromises the integrity of their relationship with ordinary clients, is anathema to a free and open society.
II. WE ARE OUTRAGED at the administration's use of the Patriot Act and the war on terror to promote policies to bust unions and deny representation to employees in the Department of Defense and in the Department of Homeland Security and the Transportation Security Administration. Department of Homeland Security regulations to attempt to bust unions. When the American people are clearly ready to support a sane and purposeful program to ensure security, this overreaching instead turns support into fear about a loss of civil liberties. It is counterproductive and incredibly cynical.
III. WE SUPPORT A RATIONAL APPROACH TO INCREASING SECURITY:
- AFT supports heightened security for airlines, shipping and other ways to penetrate U.S. borders and for protection of nuclear facilities, schools and other government and non-governmental institutions.
- We support increased funding for first responders as well as fire and police departments on the local, state and federal level.
- AFT recognizes the need for sharing of information by law enforcement and domestic and foreign intelligence agencies to ensure coordinated anti-terrorist activities.
- AFT shares Senator Kerry’s determination to:
1. enhance efforts to combat money laundering and ensure it is not a tool available to terrorists; and
2. expand the statute of limitations for investigating terrorist crime, improve information sharing between the intelligence community and local law enforcement.
IV. WE PLEDGE AN ACTIVE CAMPAIGN IN SUPPORT OF CIVIL LIBERTIES:
AFT affirms its strong commitment to support the democratic rights and liberties promised in the Constitution and Bill of Rights. We oppose measures that infringe upon those rights and liberties. We reaffirm our commitment to the right of free inquiry, unfettered use of libraries and other centers of information for research and communication that is central to academic freedom.
- AFT will compile data from affiliates on instances of violations of civil rights on campuses, medical facilities and other workplaces. Such reports will be provided to the AFT Executive Council on an ongoing basis.
- The Legislative Department will track developments in legislation concerning the Patriot Act and all other matters concerning civil liberties and, when necessary, use the AFT’s communications mechanisms to mount a vigorous AFT lobbying campaign in support of civil liberties.
- We call upon the Congress and the Executive Branch of the U.S. Government to hold public reviews, forums and hearings to discuss all aspects of the Patriot Act and to revise the law to better reflect the United States of America’s commitment to free speech, to free and open association and to the preservation of the freedoms that form the very essence of the American experience.