Civil Libertarians Warn of ‘Patriot Act Lite’

By William Fisher

11/28/07 “IPS” — – NEW YORK, 27 Nov (IPS) – Civil libertarians are worried that a little-known anti-terrorism bill now making its way through the U.S. Congress with virtually no debate could be planting the seeds of another USA Patriot Act, which was hurriedly enacted into law after the al Qaeda attacks of Sep. 11, 2001.

The Violent Radicalisation and Homegrown Terrorism Prevention Act, co-authored by the former chair of the House of Representatives Intelligence Committee, Jane Harmon, a California Democrat, passed the House by an overwhelming 400-6 vote last month, and will soon be considered by the Senate.

The bill’s co-author is Republican Congressman David Reichert of Washington State. The Senate version is being drafted by Susan Collins of Maine, the ranking Republican on the Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee, which is chaired by the hawkish Connecticut independent, Sen. Joe Lieberman. Harmon is chair of the House Homeland Security Intelligence Subcommittee.

Civil liberties groups, including the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) and the Center for Constitutional Rights (CCR), say the measure could herald a new government crackdown on dissident activity and infiltration of universities under the guise of fighting terrorism.

The CCR’s Kamau Franklin, a Racial Justice Fellow, told IPS, ‘This measure looks benign enough, but we should be concerned about where it will lead. It may well result in recommendations for new laws that criminalise radical thought and peaceful dissent, posing as academic study.’

Franklin added, ‘Crimes such as conspiracy or incitement to violence are already covered by both state and federal statute. There is no need for additional criminal laws.’

He speculated that Congress ‘may want to get this measure passed and signed into law to head off peaceful demonstrations’ at the upcoming Republican and Democratic Party conventions. ‘And no Congressperson of either political party wants to vote against this bill and get labeled as being soft on terrorism.’

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