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World -
New York City Wants Easing of Patriot Act
Thu Feb 5, 8:41 AM ET
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Jim Lobe, OneWorld US

WASHINGTON, D.C., Feb 5 (OneWorld) -- New York, the city most affected by the 9/11 attacks almost two and a half years ago, has become the latest U.S. municipality to formally urge major reforms to the USA PATRIOT Act to eliminate threats to basic civil rights and due-process protections.

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The New York City Council voted Wednesday to urge local agencies not to subject New Yorkers to secret detentions without access to counsel and the New York Police Department (NYPD), in particular, to protect the free-speech rights of individuals and refrain from enforcing federal immigration laws or engage in racial or ethnic profiling.

The measure, known as Resolution 60, was approved by voice vote and also calls upon the New York delegation in Congress to "actively work for the repeal of those sections of the USA PATRIOT Act (USAPA) and related federal actions that unduly infringe upon fundamental rights and liberties."

"The city of New York--perhaps more than any city in America--is keenly aware of why we are engaged in a war on terror," said Donna Lieberman, executive director of the New York Civil Liberties Union, the local branch of the American Civil Liberties Union (news - web sites) (ACLU). "With its diverse population, it is fitting and proper that the nation's largest city has joined millions across the country in demanding that America can, and must, be both safe AND free," she added.

Passage of the resolution came two weeks after the Los Angeles City Council passed a similar resolution by a 9-2 margin. The Jan 21 vote was depicted as a direct rebuff to President Bush (news - web sites), who had called for extending and expanding the Patrioet Act during his State of the Union Address the night before.

In so doing, Los Angeles, the country's third largest city, and now New York have joined a growing list of 250 municipalities, counties and states encompassing nearly 50 million people across the country that have approved measures over the past two years that urge far-reaching reform of the USAPA to ensure basic rights and due process.

Other jurisdictions that have approved such resolutions include Philadelphia, Baltimore, Detroit, Seattle, San Francisco, and Chicago, the nation's second largest city, as well as small communities from Alaska to North Carolina and Maine. The state legislatures of Hawaii, Alaska, and Vermont have also approved similar measures.

The main focus of their objections includes the sweeping powers given to the Justice Department (news - web sites) to round up, detain, and summarily deport immigrants without filing charges or providing them with access to attorneys, or, in some cases, even to their family members; the use of racial and ethnic profiling by federal agencies in targeting suspects; and the granting of unprecedented powers to the FBI (news - web sites) to secretly obtain information with little or no judicial review about individuals, ranging from their financial records to their book-borrowing patterns from local libraries.

Late last year, the Bush administration indicated it will seek a further expansion of those powers in a new act, as well as an extension of the USAPA beyond its December, 2005, expiration date. At the same time, the administration managed to push through new powers for the FBI enabling it to search and seize business records without court approval from securities dealers, currency exchanges, travel agencies, post offices, casinos, pawnbrokers and any other business that, in the government's eyes, has a "high degree of usefulness in criminal, tax or regulatory matters." Under the 2001 USAPA, such powers were limited to business records held by banks, credit unions and similar financial institutions.

The ACLU, a leader in national and grassroots efforts to oppose the USAPA's more far-reaching provisions and related legislation, has been joined by a wide coalition of other groups from across the political spectrum. Indeed, some of the strongest opposition to USAPA has come from the political right, including Americans for Tax Reform and the Eagle Forum, among others.

The coalition's common denominator has been the fear that USAPA has upset the delicate balance between security and liberty and now threatens individuals' privacy and constitutional freedoms.

More than 90 organizations had endorsed the New York resolution, including the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (news - web sites) (NAACP), the New York Public Library Guild, and the American-Arab Anti-Discrimination Committee. At the council's hearings held earlier, a number of family members of NYPD and NYFD officers who died on 9/11 testified in support of the resolution.

"The fact that the resolution passed in New York City, site of the devastating 9/11 attacks, sends a resounding message that New Yorkers are now willing to trade their freedom for policies that do not make them any more safe," said Laura Murphy, head of the ACLU's Legislative office here. "The City of New York paid a higher cost than most cities, but New Yorkers are standing up and refusing to sacrifice their fundamental freedoms."

Among the 34 co-sponsors of the resolution was Council Member Alan Gerson, whose district includes the site of the World Trade Center.

The impact of the City Council's vote on security is likely to be put to a major test when the Republican National Convention meets in New York Aug. 30 to Sep 2. Large-scale protests are expected.

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