Is fight against terrorism an assault on civil liberties?

American Civil Liberties Union cooperating attorney Jennifer Shaw does, though, and left-leaning Seattle City Council member Nick Licata is also worried that the Bill of Rights is in danger of being trampled as the country struggles with the threat of foreign and domestic terrorism.
And while Shaw and Licata appeared to have had a home-court advantage over Mandigo, all three tried to make their cases in front of close to 200 people last week at a mini-town hall meeting sponsored by the Magnolia Peace Project.
The meeting at the Magnolia Lutheran Church was moderated by KUOW-Radio reporter Steve Scher, who cautioned the audience not to shout out questions or comments.
Instead, those at the two-hour meeting were told to write down any questions they had on three-by-five cards which were collected by members of the Magnolia Peace Project. The questions, some accompanied by political statements, were then handed over to Scher, who had time to read several for the panel.
But most of the meeting was taken up by the three panelists as they went back and forth in a wide-ranging discussion of an issue that has many people worried and concerned. The debate is more than just academic or philosophical.
"International terrorism is very real ... and it has a presence in this community," said Mandigo, who declined to talk about specifics because of pending legal action. "The biggest problem we have in the Northwest is fundraising for terrorists," he added.
As far as Mandigo is concerned, the Patriot Act essentially updates the 1978 Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act. FISA was passed in part, he said, because of FBI abuses in the 1960s and 1970s, when the agency compiled files on individuals - this reporter included - and organizations protesting the Vietnam War.
FISA also made sure too much power was not concentrated in any one governmental agency, but the result was that barriers were created between agencies that made sharing information more difficult, according to Mandigo.
Many of those barriers have been dropped under the Patriot Act, but the new law has also removed limits on the kinds of technology that can be used to "intercept electronic communications," he said. When FISA was passed, the only game in town was a rotary-dial telephone, Mandigo noted.
The FBI, he said for example, was unable to get a FISA warrant to search the computer of alleged terrorist Zacarias Moussaoui because of restrictions that were in place before the Patriot Act had passed.

An alarming trend?
Shaw said the ACLU is very concerned about the Patriot Act. The Sept. 11 terrorist attacks were horrible, she said. But even more horrible than those was the passage of the Patriot Act six weeks later, according to Shaw, who described the legislation as "a wish list for prosecutors."
The legislation - which was passed under a curtain of fear - also has a lot of "marketing appeal" to it, she said. Shaw noted that the act was based on "USA PATRIOT," a congressional acronym that stands for "Uniting and Strengthening America by Providing Appropriate Tools Required to Intercept and Obstruct Terrorism."
The act does more than make terrorism investigations more efficient, according to Shaw.
"It does create new crimes," she said, mentioning harboring or concealing an alleged terrorist as an example. The Patriot Act also broadens the terms of terrorism, and increases permissible tactics used in investigations, Shaw added.
"Some changes don't seem significant at first," she said.
For example, the Drug Enforcement Agency already has the authority to get search warrants, but the restrictions governing them have been loosened under the Patriot Act, Shaw said.
She also said the act has provided authorities with new and broader tools such as "sneak and peak" warrants, which for the first time allow homes to be searched or bugged without timely notice to the occupants.
The FBI has to have its ducks in a row beforehand, and a judge in a FISA court still has to issue such warrants, according to Mandigo.
But Shaw charged that the FISA courts is secret court.
Furthermore, if the purpose of the warrant is tied into investigation of foreign terrorism, the court doesn't require the normal level of probable cause, and attorneys are not allowed access to related information during or after the warrants are served, she said.
Shaw also noted that a FISA judge recently criticized the FBI because the warrants the agency was requesting were based on faulty information.
"It (the FISA court) was disturbed that there were apparent abuses," she said. "The problem is, because it's all secret, we would never know."
Mandigo conceded that there had been "some irregularities" in that FISA court, but he insisted it was an isolated event. The government doesn't have the right to get any record it wants, he said. "They have to make a showing why the information is necessary."

Local effects
Licata said the Seattle City Council has tried to balance the exercise of civil rights with the need to secure the public welfare. Still, the council has recently passed two resolutions in response to at least certain aspects of the Patriot Act, he said. One them would require public libraries to let patrons know their library records can be examined without notice, one of the provisions in the Patriot Act.
The other prohibits the Seattle Police Department from acting as an agent for the Immigration and Naturalization Service, Licata said. "We did not want to see suspicion of illegal immigration status used for criminal investigations."
Licata said he's not sure what relationship exists between the federal Homeland Security Office and local police, but he suspects there is one.
Referring to recent antiwar demonstrations in Seattle, he said demonstration organizers initially had permits to protest. "One morning, they showed up and the permit had been revoked."
It wasn't clear who made that call, but it could have been federal authorities because demonstrators had been assembling at the Federal Courthouse, he said.
Whether that's the case or not, Licata is worried something is happening in this country that has happened elsewhere in the world: "the federalization of local police."
There needs to be a clear separation between the federal and local laws, because losing local control can lead to a serious loss of civil liberties, he said.
He also faults Seattle police for hemming in demonstrators and ticketing motorists for honking their horns in approval of the antiwar demonstrators.
"Those honking for pro-war demonstrators didn't get tickets," Licata said.
He also said it was his understanding that five American cities have been identified for a pilot program in which local police would share information with the feds, "so they can more easily track individuals."
Mandigo said there are checks and balances in place that would prevent an abuse of such a program.
"We have (U.S.) Attorney General guidelines," Mandigo said, a response that drew loud groans from many in the audience. "I don't believe there's anything in the Patriot Act that's unconstitutional," Mandigo also said at the meeting.
Shaw said that may not turn out to be true because cases challenging the Patriot Act are still winding their ways through the court system. She also urged the audience to fight complacency, mentioning an example in her own family. Her daughter, Shaw said, didn't think the Patriot Act was such a big deal until Shaw asked if she could read her daughter's e-mails.
"She changed her mind," Shaw said.

Staff reporter Russ Zabel can be reached at
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