Committee objects to Patriot Act

House panel calls on Congress to make sure measure is consistent with U.S. Constitution

Posted: Wednesday, May 07, 2003

A North Pole Republican and a Fairbanks Democrat want the Alaska Legislature to go on record in favor of changes to the USA Patriot Act.

The act, passed in the wake of the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks, expanded federal authority to engage in surveillance and detention of suspected terrorists. Reps. John Coghill of North Pole and David Guttenberg of Fairbanks say it goes too far.

"The liberties that we enjoy in Alaska and in America are something that we would like to see enjoined across the world, but the only way they are going to do that is if they stay healthy at home," Coghill said.

Coghill and Guttenberg have authored separate resolutions calling on Congress to review the Patriot Act to ensure it is consistent with rights established in the U.S. Constitution. Both measures passed out of the House State Affairs Committee on Tuesday.

If the resolutions are passed by the House and Senate, Alaska would become the second state after Hawaii to send a resolution to Congress objecting to the act.

The Juneau Assembly passed a resolution last week calling on Congress to review, and if necessary, amend the act. Similar resolutions have been passed in Fairbanks, Gustavus, Kenai and North Pole and more than 90 other communities nationwide.

Coghill's House Joint Resolution 23 takes a tempered approach to the act, supporting the federal campaign against terrorism but saying such a campaign should not be waged at the expense of individual liberties.

Guttenberg's House Joint Resolution 22 takes a stronger approach, directing Alaskans to not cooperate with federal authorities acting under powers granted by the Patriot Act if investigators do not provide probable cause that a crime was committed. Alaskans also would not participate in surveillance or detention; sharing book and video sales records, rental records, library records, financial records, student records and other personal data; and profiling based on race, ethnicity, religion, citizenship or political philosophy.

More than 20 people testified Tuesday in opposition to the act.

Jennifer Rudinger, executive director of the Alaska Civil Liberties Union, said the Patriot Act was passed in the aftermath of Sept. 11 and that most members of Congress had not even read the bill.

"Congress was not told exactly what this really authorizes, and many provisions of this 342-page bill actually go way beyond dealing with anything related to terrorism and get to ordinary, routine criminal investigations," she said.

Rudinger said she was told by Alaska U.S. Rep. Don Young in April that he would co-sponsor a bill with U.S. Rep. Bernard Sanders of Vermont to restrict federal investigators from accessing library records under the Patriot Act.

Young has been an outspoken critic of the act, calling it the "worst act we ever passed" in an interview with the Alaska Public Radio Network in February.

Rudinger said the public needs to know how federal law enforcement officials are using the Patriot Act and why the measure is necessary.

"It's not that we have to trade away our liberties for our freedom," she said. "We can be both safe and free if the right questions are asked and we make sure that we're not trading away our liberty for a false sense of security."

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