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Thread: US Patriot Act Being Used Against Common Criminals

  1. #1

    Default US Patriot Act Being Used Against Common Criminals

    (For all its Flaws, one good thing about the stringent Patriot Act is that it's increasingly being used to lock up con artists who launder money, drug dealers who deal in lethal chemicals such as crack cocaine, and street gang scums trying to smuggle a gun into a courthouse or jail. They should focus less on innocent Arab men in our cities and more on real hardened criminals.)

    New Terror Laws Used Vs. Common Criminals
    Sun Sep 14, 1:14 PM ET Add Top Stories - AP to My Yahoo!

    By DAVID B. CARUSO, Associated Press Writer

    PHILADELPHIA - In the two years since law enforcement agencies gained fresh powers to help them track down and punish terrorists, police and prosecutors have increasingly turned the force of the new laws not on al-Qaida cells but on people charged with common crimes.

    The Justice Department (news - web sites) said it has used authority given to it by the USA Patriot Act to crack down on currency smugglers and seize money hidden overseas by alleged bookies, con artists and drug dealers.

    Federal prosecutors used the act in June to file a charge of "terrorism using a weapon of mass destruction" against a California man after a pipe bomb exploded in his lap, wounding him as he sat in his car.

    A North Carolina county prosecutor charged a man accused of running a methamphetamine lab with breaking a new state law barring the manufacture of chemical weapons. If convicted, Martin Dwayne Miller could get 12 years to life in prison for a crime that usually brings about six months.

    Prosecutor Jerry Wilson says he isn't abusing the law, which defines chemical weapons of mass destruction as "any substance that is designed or has the capability to cause death or serious injury" and contains toxic chemicals.

    Civil liberties and legal defense groups are bothered by the string of cases, and say the government soon will be routinely using harsh anti-terrorism laws against run-of-the-mill lawbreakers.

    "Within six months of passing the Patriot Act, the Justice Department was conducting seminars on how to stretch the new wiretapping provisions to extend them beyond terror cases," said Dan Dodson, a spokesman for the National Association of Criminal Defense Attorneys. "They say they want the Patriot Act to fight terrorism, then, within six months, they are teaching their people how to use it on ordinary citizens."

    Prosecutors aren't apologizing.

    Attorney General John Ashcroft (news - web sites) completed a 16-city tour this week defending the Patriot Act as key to preventing a second catastrophic terrorist attack. Federal prosecutors have brought more than 250 criminal charges under the law, with more than 130 convictions or guilty pleas.

    The law, passed two months after the Sept. 11 attacks, erased many restrictions that had barred the government from spying on its citizens, granting agents new powers to use wiretaps, conduct electronic and computer eavesdropping and access private financial data.

    Stefan Cassella, deputy chief for legal policy for the Justice Department's asset forfeiture and money laundering section, said that while the Patriot Act's primary focus was on terrorism, lawmakers were aware it contained provisions that had been on prosecutors' wish lists for years and would be used in a wide variety of cases.

    In one case prosecuted this year, investigators used a provision of the Patriot Act to recover $4.5 million from a group of telemarketers accused of tricking elderly U.S. citizens into thinking they had won the Canadian lottery. Prosecutors said the defendants told victims they would receive their prize as soon as they paid thousands of dollars in income tax on their winnings.

    Before the anti-terrorism act, U.S. officials would have had to use international treaties and appeal for help from foreign governments to retrieve the cash, deposited in banks in Jordan and Israel. Now, they simply seized it from assets held by those banks in the United States.

    "These are appropriate uses of the statute," Cassella said. "If we can use the statute to get money back for victims, we are going to do it."

    The complaint that anti-terrorism legislation is being used to go after people who aren't terrorists is just the latest in a string of criticisms.

    More than 150 local governments have passed resolutions opposing the law as an overly broad threat to constitutional rights.

    Critics also say the government has gone too far in charging three U.S. citizens as enemy combatants, a power presidents wield during wartime that is not part of the Patriot Act. The government can detain such individuals indefinitely without allowing them access to a lawyer.

    And Muslim and civil liberties groups have criticized the government's decision to force thousands of mostly Middle Eastern men to risk deportation by registering with immigration authorities.

    "The record is clear," said Ralph Neas, president of the liberal People for the American Way Foundation. "Ashcroft and the Justice Department have gone too far."

    Some of the restrictions on government surveillance that were erased by the Patriot Act had been enacted after past abuses including efforts by the FBI (news - web sites) to spy on civil rights leaders and anti-war demonstrators during the Cold War. Tim Lynch, director of the Project on Criminal Justice at the Cato Institute, a libertarian think tank, said it isn't far fetched to believe that the government might overstep its bounds again.

    "I don't think that those are frivolous fears," Lynch said. "We've already heard stories of local police chiefs creating files on people who have protested the (Iraq (news - web sites)) war ... The government is constantly trying to expand its jurisdictions, and it needs to be watched very, very closely."


    On the Net:

    Justice Department:

    American Civil Liberties Union (news - web sites):

  2. #2


    September 18, 2003

    In a Reversal, Ashcroft Lifts Secrecy of Data


    WASHINGTON, Sept. 17 Under pressure from lawmakers and civil rights groups over the Justice Department's antiterrorism initiatives, Attorney General John Ashcroft reversed course today and agreed to declassify data showing how often federal agents had demanded records from libraries and other institutions.

    Civil rights advocates said the decision, which Mr. Ashcroft disclosed today in a telephone call to the president of the nation's biggest library association, was a significant victory in their efforts to lift the secrecy surrounding the antiterrorism legislation known as the USA Patriot Act.

    Department officials said that in the next several days they would make public data showing how often agents had examined library records, business documents, computer data and other material in investigations. Section 215 of the antiterrorism act , which gave the department expanded authority to demand such records, has drawn strong objections from many librarians, civil rights advocates and community groups who say it gives the government too much power to spy on private activities of Americans.

    Mr. Ashcroft says the Justice Department has used its powers sparingly. But until now he has refused requests from members of Congress and others to provide details about the department's use of the section of the law dealing with library records and other documents, saying the information is classified.

    But Mr. Ashcroft told Carla Hayden, president of the American Library Association, in a telephone call today that he would relent and release the information.

    Ms. Hayden and several lawmakers said the decision appeared to be a response to criticism that Mr. Ashcroft received this week after suggesting in a speech that the library association and other critics had helped fuel "hysteria" and misunderstandings over the government's use of the Patriot Act in libraries.

    Emily Sheketoff, executive director of the association's Washington office, said, "I think the Justice Department was taken by surprise by the negative reaction that his attack on librarians had."

    Mark Corallo, a department spokesman, said it was uncertain what form the public release of the documents would take. But, he said, "the numbers that everyone is so concerned about will be released." He said Mr. Ashcroft had "made light of all the criticism, but he wanted to make sure the public understands what we're actually doing."

    "He felt it was in the public interest and the national security interest to have these numbers declassified," Mr. Corallo said.

    Copyright 2003 The New York Times Company

    I think I still have a library book I borrowed in the 5th grade.

  3. #3


    September 28, 2003

    U.S. Uses Terror Law to Pursue Crimes From Drugs to Swindling


    WASHINGTON, Sept. 27 The Bush administration, which calls the USA Patriot Act perhaps its most essential tool in fighting terrorists, has begun using the law with increasing frequency in many criminal investigations that have little or no connection to terrorism.

    The government is using its expanded authority under the far-reaching law to investigate suspected drug traffickers, white-collar criminals, blackmailers, child pornographers, money launderers, spies and even corrupt foreign leaders, federal officials said.

    Justice Department officials say they are simply using all the tools now available to them to pursue criminals terrorists or otherwise. But critics of the administration's antiterrorism tactics assert that such use of the law is evidence the administration has sold the American public a false bill of goods, using terrorism as a guise to pursue a broader law enforcement agenda.

    Justice Department officials point out that they have employed their newfound powers in many instances against suspected terrorists. With the new law breaking down the wall between intelligence and criminal investigations, the Justice Department in February was able to bring terrorism-related charges against a Florida professor, for example, and it has used its expanded surveillance powers to move against several suspected terrorist cells.

    But a new Justice Department report, given to members of Congress this month, also cites more than a dozen cases that are not directly related to terrorism in which federal authorities have used their expanded power to investigate individuals, initiate wiretaps and other surveillance, or seize millions in tainted assets.

    For instance, the ability to secure nationwide warrants to obtain e-mail and electronic evidence "has proved invaluable in several sensitive nonterrorism investigations," including the tracking of an unidentified fugitive and an investigation into a computer hacker who stole a company's trade secrets, the report said.

    Justice Department officials said the cases cited in the report represent only a small sampling of the many hundreds of nonterrorism cases pursued under the law.

    The authorities have also used toughened penalties under the law to press charges against a lovesick 20-year-old woman from Orange County, Calif., who planted threatening notes aboard a Hawaii-bound cruise ship she was traveling on with her family in May. The woman, who said she made the threats to try to return home to her boyfriend, was sentenced this week to two years in federal prison because of a provision in the Patriot Act on the threat of terrorism against mass transportation systems.

    And officials said they had used their expanded authority to track private Internet communications in order to investigate a major drug distributor, a four-time killer, an identity thief and a fugitive who fled on the eve of trial by using a fake passport.

    In one case, an e-mail provider disclosed information that allowed federal authorities to apprehend two suspects who had threatened to kill executives at a foreign corporation unless they were paid a hefty ransom, officials said. Previously, they said, gray areas in the law made it difficult to get such global Internet and computer data.

    The law passed by Congress just five weeks after the terror attacks of Sept. 11, 2001, has proved a particularly powerful tool in pursuing financial crimes.

    Officials with the Bureau of Immigration and Customs Enforcement have seen a sharp spike in investigations as a result of their expanded powers, officials said in interviews.

    A senior official said investigators in the last two years had seized about $35 million at American borders in undeclared cash, checks and currency being smuggled out of the country. That was a significant increase over the past few years, the official said. While the authorities say they suspect that large amounts of the smuggled cash may have been intended to finance Middle Eastern terrorists, much of it involved drug smuggling, corporate fraud and other crimes not directly related to terrorism.

    The terrorism law allows the authorities to investigate cash smuggling cases more aggressively and to seek stiffer penalties by elevating them from what had been mere reporting failures.

    Customs officials say they have used their expanded authority to open at least nine investigations into Latin American officials suspected of laundering money in the United States, and to seize millions of dollars from overseas bank accounts in many cases unrelated to terrorism.

    In one instance, agents citing the new law seized $1.7 million from United States bank accounts that were linked to a former Illinois investor who fled to Belize after he was accused of bilking clients out of millions, federal officials said.

    Publicly, Attorney General John Ashcroft and senior Justice Department officials have portrayed their expanded power almost exclusively as a means of fighting terrorists, with little or no mention of other criminal uses.

    "We have used these tools to prevent terrorists from unleashing more death and destruction on our soil," Mr. Ashcroft said last month in a speech in Washington, one of more than two dozen he has given in defense of the law, which has come under growing attack. "We have used these tools to save innocent American lives."

    Internally, however, Justice Department officials have emphasized a much broader mandate.

    A guide to a Justice Department employee seminar last year on financial crimes, for instance, said: "We all know that the USA Patriot Act provided weapons for the war on terrorism. But do you know how it affects the war on crime as well?"

    Elliot Mincberg, legal director for People for the American Way, a liberal group that has been critical of Mr. Ashcroft, said the Justice Department's public assertions had struck him as misleading and perhaps dishonest.

    "What the Justice Department has really done," he said, "is to get things put into the law that have been on prosecutors' wish lists for years. They've used terrorism as a guise to expand law enforcement powers in areas that are totally unrelated to terrorism."

    A study in January by the General Accounting Office, the investigative arm of Congress, concluded that while the number of terrorism investigations at the Justice Department soared after the Sept. 11 attacks, 75 percent of the convictions that the department classified as "international terrorism" were wrongly labeled. Many dealt with more common crimes like document forgery.

    The terrorism law has already drawn sharp opposition from those who believe it gives the government too much power to intrude on people's privacy in pursuit of terrorists.

    Anthony Romero, executive director of the American Civil Liberties Union, said, "Once the American public understands that many of the powers granted to the federal government apply to much more than just terrorism, I think the opposition will gain momentum."

    Senator Patrick J. Leahy of Vermont, the ranking Democrat on the Judiciary Committee, said members of Congress expected some of the new powers granted to law enforcement to be used for nonterrorism investigations.

    But he said the Justice Department's secrecy and lack of cooperation in implementing the legislation have made him question whether "the government is taking shortcuts around the criminal laws" by invoking intelligence powers with differing standards of evidence to conduct surveillance operations and demand access to records.

    "We did not intend for the government to shed the traditional tools of criminal investigation, such as grand jury subpoenas governed by well-established precedent and wiretaps strictly monitored" by federal judges, he said.

    Justice Department officials say such criticism has not deterred them. "There are many provisions in the Patriot Act that can be used in the general criminal law," Mark Corallo, a department spokesman, said. "And I think any reasonable person would agree that we have an obligation to do everything we can to protect the lives and liberties of Americans from attack, whether it's from terrorists or garden-variety criminals."

    Copyright 2003 The New York Times Company

  4. #4


    Associated Press:

    Jan 26, 2004

    Part of Patriot Act Ruled Unconstitutional

    By LINDA DEUTSCH, AP Special Correspondent

    LOS ANGELES - A federal judge has declared unconstitutional a portion of the USA Patriot Act that bars giving expert advice or assistance to groups designated foreign terrorist organizations.

    The ruling marks the first court decision to declare a part of the post-Sept. 11 anti-terrorism statute unconstitutional, said David Cole, a Georgetown University law professor who argued the case on behalf of the Humanitarian Law Project.

    In a ruling handed down late Friday and made available Monday, U.S. District Judge Audrey Collins said the ban on providing "expert advice or assistance" is impermissibly vague, in violation of the First and Fifth Amendments.

    John Tyler, the Justice Department attorney who argued the case, had no comment and referred calls to the department press office in Washington. A message left there was not immediately returned.

    The case before the court involved five groups and two U.S. citizens seeking to provide support for lawful, nonviolent activities on behalf of Kurdish refugees in Turkey.

    The Humanitarian Law Project, which brought the lawsuit, said the plaintiffs were threatened with 15 years in prison if they advised groups on seeking a peaceful resolution of the Kurds' campaign for self-determination in Turkey.

    The judge's ruling said the law, as written, does not differentiate between impermissible advice on violence and encouraging the use of peaceful, nonviolent means to achieve goals.

    "The USA Patriot Act places no limitation on the type of expert advice and assistance which is prohibited and instead bans the provision of all expert advice and assistance regardless of its nature," the judge said.

    Cole declared the ruling "a victory for everyone who believes the war on terrorism ought to be fought consistent with constitutional principles."

    Copyright 2004 The Associated Press.

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