- Normally, if you put more than one lawyer in the room,
you're guaranteed to generate disagreement. But this was not the case when
a panel of lawyers with varying specialties gathered recently at Emory
University's School of Law to discuss the passage of the USA Patriot Act.
- According to the panelists, the American government may
use this Act to better fight terrorism, but the passage of this Act will
cost Americans plenty when it comes to civil liberties and personal freedoms,
a fact that gravely concerned each panelist.
- "To return to the use of criminal law in ways that
prohibit citizens from challenging government has an eerie feeling for
me," said panel moderator and Emory Law professor, Kathleen Neal Cleaver.
Cleaver, a communications secretary for the Black Panther Party from 1967
to 1971, was listed as an "agitator" by the FBI during the Civil
Rights movement, and spent several years in exile with former husband,
Eldridge Cleaver. She returned to the United States in 1975. "This
is not where it's going to end. This is just the start of repressive legislation,"
- The wish to do something in the wake of September 11th
is understandable, says Gerald Weber, Legal Director, ACLU Georgia and
professor of law at Emory. "The problem is we don't yet know what's
needed and we don't yet know what we've done," he said.
- In Weber's view, existing laws already fight terrorism,
and it's unlikely that any of the new laws provided for in the Patriot
Act would have prevented the horrible events of September 11th. As for
the bill's efficiency, Weber remains unconvinced that the Act increases
our government's effectiveness in fighting terrorism. On the topic of the
Act's constitutionality, Weber said, "The government's had a wish
list of things that they would like to change, like to clarify. They've
got it now. They now have very wide-ranging powers to engage in unchecked
fishing expeditions with very little judicial review."
- Among the many aspects of the more than 140-page Patriot
Act that alarm panelists is a definition of terrorism so broad, says panelist
Natsu Taylor Saito, a professor of law at Georgia State University, that
she's worried organizations such as Greenpeace and People for the Ethical
Treatment of Animals [PETA] will be treated as domestic terrorists.
- "It's obvious that none of [the panelists] like
the changes going on," said Saito, whose father and several family
members were held in Japanese interment camps during World War II. "What
it really means is having your private life exposed to the government."
- The provision allowing "sneak and peek" searches
of homes and offices by law enforcement agencies-with no provision requiring
such agencies to inform those being searched that they are under investigation-is
just one example Saito cites as worrisome. The fact that such searches
have been broadened to monitor Internet activity and telephone conversations
concerns her as well.
- Ward Churchill, University of Colorado law professor,
author, Vietnam veteran, and activist in the Indian movement in Colorado,
said there's nothing in the Patriot Act that surprises him. "Counter-intelligence
and counter-insurgency techniques date back to the 19th Century,"
said Churchill, who recited an "inventory" of landmark cases
to prove his point. "The list goes on and on. It's not like there's
an absence of record," said Churchill. "We've been in a police
state for a long, long time."
- It is the sweeping authority that will not only affect
individuals, but business as well. In a phone call following the panel
discussion, Weber pointed to the 1992 Bank Secrecy Act, which gave the
Treasury Department access to bank accounts flagged due to suspicious activity.
The USA Patriot Act expands this power, said Weber, to both the CIA and
the FBI. "Your credit reports and financial documents can be looked
at without you ever knowing it's been done," said Weber. "The
government doesn't have to give notice and there is no judicial review."
- If a person has financial dealings with a company that
has done business with a company flagged for supporting terrorism or conducting
suspicious activity, that person, by association, could be subject to review.
- Global firms could well see increased scrutiny. Larger
businesses and corporations that have international dealings as well as
those companies with ties to the Middle East will be affected most by the
expanded provisions, said Weber. "You need to make sure you have an
awareness of who your company's dealings are ultimately with."
- If there are company stakeholders who are not US citizens,
another provision enters the mix. "Non-citizens are subject to deportation
if it's determined that a company they had financial dealings with-even
if they were totally unaware of them-engaged in financial dealings with
someone who is considered to be associated with terrorism," said Weber.
"It's hard to know who you're dealing with in an international corporation.
Now, there's a greater obligation to know."
- When asked how she feels the Act might affect businesses,
Cleaver offers little more than pessimism. "Immediately after the
Act was passed, there were FBI agents gearing up to go into business offices
and do searches," she said. "I'm afraid that they'll use it to
go get anything."
- Emory economics professor, Çaglar Özden,
is worried about another aspect of the Patriot Act. Özden, who spoke
to Knowledge@Emory in a separate interview, is concerned about the business
ramifications of the Patriot Act's money laundering section, which tightens
already existing provisions concerning cash payments of more than $10,000.
- As he addressed in "Tracking Terrorist Funds Isn't
Easy," a recent Knowledge@Emory article, Özden said attempting
to monitor money laundering costs the U.S. economy billions of dollars
each year. The pronounced provisions in the Patriot Act will undoubtedly
hoist the total. "The banks aren't saying anything because it would
be political suicide to oppose the bill," said Özden. "But
they must be very concerned."
- Expect small businesses to be most affected by the broadening
of the money laundering provision in the Patriot Act more than corporations,
said Özden. Even if the per transaction cost goes up, he says, a large
corporation reporting a $1 million transaction will feel less of a pinch
than a small company reporting a hundred $10,000 transactions.
- While it's too early to predict the outcome of the Act,
the broad powers the government now has to help fight terrorism raises
a red flag with the panelist. Back in the 1970s, said Cleaver, the government
insisted that a new kind of radical required a new type of law. The USA
Patriot Act gives her a sense of "déjà vu" she'd
rather live without. As each panelist indicated, none of them believe the
powers of the Act will remain limited to terrorism.
- In his closing comments, Weber implored the audience
to read about the Act and communicate what they learn to others. "We
need to regain any liberties temporarily suspended or infringed because
of this tragedy-that's our job," said Weber. "Otherwise, I really
believe the terrorists have gained another victory."