Assembly to eye USA Patriot Act

Posted: Sunday, April 27, 2003

The Juneau Assembly will consider a revised resolution Monday night that compels city employees to take a cautious approach to federal inquiries under the USA Patriot and Homeland Security acts.

"We normally think twice before releasing private and confidential information. This resolution will require us to think three times," said City Attorney John Corso.

The resolution requires city employees to consult the city attorney's office if they are asked to divulge certain confidential public records. It also asks that the Juneau Human Rights Commission report complaints about local investigations under the USA Patriot and Homeland Security acts. And it asks the U.S. Attorney's office to provide statistics reflecting all investigations carried out under the acts.

The resolution also sends a message to Congress, asking that anti-terrorism legislation be re-examined.

"There's people who would like something with stronger teeth for sure but, yeah, I think we are happy with it," said Larry Hurlock of the revised resolution. He is with a group called Juneau Committee for Defense of the Constitution and the Bill of Rights, which originally introduced a similar but stronger resolution.

The first resolution was toned down by an Assembly subcommittee in response to comments by Corso. He suggested some of the language be changed, and the resolution make requests, rather than requirements, of federal and state agencies. The city has no power to direct such agencies, he said.

The Assembly is scheduled to vote on the revised resolution at its Monday meeting, which starts at 7 p.m., in the Assembly chambers.

"There was a compromise from the committee level with the public - some people wanted it to be more emphatic, some people wanted it to send a message that, 'You guys may have acted rapidly without giving it enough thought,' " said Assembly member Merrill Sanford, who was on the committee to revise the resolution. "We respectfully asked (Congress) to look at it again and re-evaluate the whole concept of it."

The Juneau Committee for Defense of the Constitution and the Bill of Rights brought the original resolution to the Assembly because it objected to many aspects of the USA Patriot and Homeland Security acts, especially a provision that federal investigators could require city employees such as police officers, librarians, school officials and health workers to turn over confidential records.

Someone who produces records under the USA Patriot Act can't disclose they have done so, according to Pam Finley, an attorney who helped re-draft the resolution.

"There are gag orders that are forever," she said. "Why would you ever need to prevent somebody from saying that someone came and got my library records forever?"

Carol McCabe, the director of Juneau public libraries, has watched the debate with interest and supports the resolution. Juneau libraries do not keep records of Internet use and they erase borrowing records after a book has been returned, she said.

"We always have had this strong belief in the value of privacy for research," she said. "People absolutely deserve as much privacy as we can give them."

U.S. Attorney Tim Burgess in Anchorage was not immediately available for comment. U.S. attorneys are federal prosecutors.

The resolution is not binding and the U.S. Attorney's office has no obligation to comply, Corso said.

Nearly 100 communities, including Chicago, Ill., Berkeley, Calif., Fairbanks and Gustavus have passed resolutions similar to the one the Assembly will consider, according to the privacy watchdog group Bill of Rights Defense Committee.

Julia O'Malley can be reached at

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