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The American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) was formed in 1920 succeeding the then National Civil liberties Bureau with its headquarters in New York and affiliates in other states. The union is a non-profit organization with a mission to preserve and defend all individuals’ rights and liberties as provided by the constitution of the United States. The lobbying of legislations, litigations, community enlightenment has brought tremendous evolution to the US constitution. It generally gives assistance where civil liberties tend to be at risk or are being violated. It also gives political activism and lobbying of officials elected by the two parties; democrats and republicans. The main purpose for ACLU founding was to protect aliens who were threatened with deportation and also protect U.S. citizens charged with criminal allegations due to their socialist or communist agendas. Some of the radical activities of the ACLU are to protect immigrant rights, promote right of privacy, religion rights, affirmative action and reproduction rights.
Following the terrorist attack in the US world Trade centre; New York in 2001, the USA PATRIOT Act was passed. It was signed by the then president George. W. Bush into law in October 2001 (ACLU 1). Also called the patriot act, it is an acronym for Uniting and Strengthening America by Providing Appropriate Tools Required to Intercept and Obstruct Terrorism (USA PATRIOT). It was passed by the 107th US congress and its main purpose was to help detect, protect, punish and counter any terrorism activities in America. It also included having an eye on domestic terrorism.
The Act provided that any law agencies could have the permission to search any communication details pertaining a suspect involved in terrorism activities. This included the ability to access mails, financial records, telephone communications, medical records and even financial transactions. It also gave mandate to the US treasury to regulate and monitor any financial transactions mostly those involving foreign persons. Another provision also gave the power to the immigration department to deport or detain persons suspected to be terrorists. The USA PATRIOT Act was expected to expire on December, 2005 but months prior to the expiration, many supporters of the act sought to make the provisions of the law permanent while other critics considered revising it before solidifying it to a permanent paper. Hence 4 months before outdating, the Senate passed a bill that included changes in the Act. However the House wanted to keep the originality of the Act. Later the two came into a consensus and Congress passed it which followed the president George W Bush reauthorizing it into a law again on March 2006 (Ball 200).
According to ACLU, the bill was passed by a panicked congress and was not scrutinized in details or given enough time to be criticized. The Al Qaeda attacks only served to hasten the passing of the Act without debate by the congress. The congress passed it because the president; Bush pushed them and threatened charges to any representative who opposed it. He threatened to open charges in case other terrorist attacks occurred to those who did not support the Act. ACLU further stressed that the act was going to jeopardize the freedom of citizens in the name of protecting against terrorism. One time executive director of ACLU accused the office of the attorney general; John Ashcroft of eroding civil liberties with the powers given to him by the provisions of the Act. The executive director further claims that it would be very possible to have both liberty and security without undermining the values of democracy.
Since the signing of the bill into law, the department of justice has frequently misused the powers at its disposal and has abused the anti-terrorism laws. It is for this reason that ACLU has been laboring to re-instate the Patriot Act so that it works along the US constitution. Together with about 40 states, many suggestions and resolutions have been put forward which are requesting the congress to revise the Act so that it does not seem to erode the liberty and freedom of the people. Such a suggestion brought forward by some members of the Senate and House representatives is the Security and Freedom Ensured Act of 2003(SAFE). It provided that law is enforced against terrorism while at the same time it protects the privacy and freedom of the people. The affiliate of ACLU in Washington insisted that congress should be in the first line in ruling out legislations that would harm the citizens in the disguise of countering terrorist attacks. ACLU calls for freedom to be reclaimed rather than curtailed, which could only happen when activists get involved in the fight of bringing back liberty.
ACLU has also been against the Patriot Act 2, which even after rejection, some pieces have been still introduced in the main legislations. The Patriot 2: Domestic Security Enhancement Act had provisions was considered by ACLU to increase the powers of the government to diminish privacy of citizens. This involved the ability to obtain personal records secretly and also to use secret evidence in judicial rulings e.g. wiretapping and telephone communication records. The power bestowed upon the FBI as to obtain information from third parties e.g. doctors, libraries and schools is highly criticized by ACLU as robbing privacy off the people.
ACLU protecting immigrants
The ACLU since 1987 has been protecting the rights of immigrants. In fact an Immigrants Rights Project (IRP) was formed in the same year whose major agenda was to protect the rights of non-citizens and immigrants. It works to prevent discrimination of immigrants and enforcing their civil rights. The IRP does representations by lawyers to immigrants inflicted by the USA PATRIOT Act. It protects their freedom of privacy and their right to stay in America as long as they are not involved in criminal activities. It is also successful in preventing deportation of residents who had lived in the US for a presumably long time without a trace of criminology. The IRP provides adequate information to advocates representing immigrants in the case where the immigrants have been prosecuted on terrorism basis. IRP also protects immigrants by Preventing the FBI to use National Security Letters in an atempt to obtain personal information pertaining immigrants (Ball 221). It provides that amendments should be done in the provision of issuing of NSLs and prohibition of such information to leaked to the public. If the FBI obtains information from third party agencies, the individual should be contacted about the government actions e.g. in a court ruling filed by ACLU in 2004 after issuing a NSL to an internet provider the Judge stipulates that NSLs violets freedom of speech. ACLU has severally challenged the NSL provisions of the Patriot Act in court which led to tremendous success of the filed cases.
The Material Support Statues of the patriot Act is also greatly comdemned by ACLU. The statute which demands that no one should provide help to a suspected terrorist either material or intangible is seen to jeopardize the rights of innocent immigrants. This provision that denies an individual the right to services or material support whether they have criminal aspiration or not is highly advocated for by ACLU. This has led to dismissal of such cases where it the IRP provides litigation in court houses. Another aspect where ACLU is against the Patriot Act is the Foreign Intelligence surveillance Act (FISA) of 2008. IRP has protested against the government imposing search warranties to immigrants as provided in the FISA. It has strived to provide solid suggestions to amend this Act so as to protect individuals from intrusive surveillance from the government. The ACLU has hence been in the fore front in guaranteeing protection to immigrants as provided in the constitution from 1987 to date. This is because when the government has the mandate to deny any rights to any individual, the immigrants become the most vulnerable to such abuse. This is why the IRP of ACLU has worked effortlessly especially after the enactment of USA PATRIOT in 2001 (ACLU 1). It is important in such a time when any immigrant is prone to suspicion of terrorism involvement whether the case is true or not. It is also actively calling upon individuals who feel that their rights have been violated by the patriot Act to seek help so that legal representation can be accorded to them.
ACLU protecting money transactions
In the provisions of the Patriot Act, it gives power to the US government to investigate and detect all cases concerning money laundering within its borders. It also gives the judiciary the mandate to scrutinize and probe international financial firms. This included probing into accounts and transactions involving people who were suspected to be terrorists. The Act also authorized all financial firms to report any suspicious or potential money theft in the US. In addition, it advocated for the repatriation of smuggled goods and money to countries from which this valuables belonged. About twelve sections of the Act touched on the anti-money laundering efforts. It required that all financial institutions be answerable to the US Bank Secrecy Act (BSA). All financial institutions hence had to verify the identities of their account holders upon request by the FBI. It gave power to the intelligence unit to retrieve bank records of suspected individuals. Also, all transactions between domestic banks and other foreign banks had to be provided to the US financial system on demand.
For this reasons that deprived any individual the rights to money transactions freely and privately, the ACLU brought forward the regulation called, “know your customer”. The regulation was opposed by a majority of the public but however the ACLU did not give up the fight. Despite the withdrawal of the regulation by the Judicial Committee on Commercial and Administrative Law, ACLU pressured the congress to review the statute. It urged that the patriot should concentrate on the real terrorist money laundering rather than erode confidentiality and privacy to customers of US banks. In attempts to prevent intrusive behavior of the government into private financial affairs, the “know your customer” proposal had the following suggestions; that all banking institutions had to correctly identify their customers, approximate the normal transactions, know their source of funds, and monitor their accounts and compare to former historical activities. It also suggested that correspondences be issued to the Financial Crimes Enforcement Network for any suspicious account activities e.g. change of historical transactions prototypes.
The ACLU has also launched another regulation “Know Your Banker”. This helps clients to know whether their banks have a “Know Your Customer” service. In relation, the customer may need to know whether the banks have any information that it forwards to the Bank Secrecy Act. This campaign works to entice the customers to get into business with a bank that will offer privacy to them. Know your customer campaign by ACLU helps the banks to know the history of their clients well. If the history follows a normal routine, then the bank do not have to report to any surveillance institutions. ACLU provides that only when the trend under the “Know Your Customer” changes drastically that the bank can be warranted to provide such information to the investigation departments. ACLU is forging for the congress to legislate “Know Your Customer” so that it can be applicable to all banking institutions. This, according to ACLU, would reduce unwarranted reports to the investigation authorities that may have no relation to criminal activities by their clients. This especially works under the provision that all money transactions above $5000 be reported (ACLU 1). While this type of transaction may be related to a financial funding of a terrorist group, it may not necessarily be the case. It may be that the client was billing an automobile, mortgage or a family function.
ACLU is also working to activate the congress to reinstate the Bank Secrecy Act. It has done`so by filing lawsuits in court against abusing the 1st, 4th and 5th amendments of the US constitution. These amendments generally provide an individual with the right to financial privacy. This being the sole reason that triggered “Know Your Customer” campaigns; it urges the government not be overly intrusive and suspicious aboout giving reports on the financial proceeding. In addition, ACLU is pushing the congress to repeal the Suspicious Activity Reports. It demands that any innocent customer should be informed about their information being leaked to government authorities if it does not show any traces of terrorism hints after one year of filling.
ACLU protecting detainees
In section 412 of the USA Patriot Act, it provides that any suspected non-citizen or immigrant be detained indefinitely. This allows that individuals be charged within one week with immigration violation even though one has no terrorism connections. Power is given to the judicial system to detain immigrants or deport them if found guilty of terrorism involvement. If an immigrant or a non-citizen has an expired visa, the office of the attorney rules that such an individual could face indefinite detention. The decision is reached if the office of the attorney has reasonable arguments that such a person presents a threat to national security or any other citizens. This section also demands that anyone who has been detained before on allegations of terrorism, but later released should report to the authorities every six months in case they are still in US. This reporting was to act as a disclaimer that the person did not continue to pose any security threats to the US.
In another provision of the patriot, the section 203 did not allow for indefinite detainees to file another appeal so that they are not proved guilty. The section also states that there need be no evidence of threats posed by an individual to national security for them to be detained. Hence indefinite detention would apply without proof of charges or even without enough convincing evidence. In this context where an immigrant can be detained indefinitely, the ACLU has recently called upon the Obama’s administration to repeal the patriot Act. It has also called upon the current government to prosecute the former Bush Administration for the abuse and torture of detainees. The torture posed to immigrant detainees in prisons even without charges or trial is considered to violate the individual’s freedom as provided by the constitution. It deprives the provision of the constitution that allow for equal representation in a court of law. The ACLU hence holds a Torture Awareness month every June. It calls upon individuals who have been tortured in US custodies innocently to come out and seek help that makes the responsible persons accountable. Another initiative of the ACLU is the National Security Project. It has recently combined a torture report that detainees went through during the Bush Administration. This seeks to hold accountable all parties involved e.g. government officials. The ACLU hence has filed lawsuits against the torture allegations and the National Security Project is following up prosecutions filed in these lawsuits. It is aimed to bring about national healing and recovery of the victims of abuse. Through the Torture Report, the ACLU is expected to bring many top government officials to bars who were involved in torture of innocent immigrant detainees.
In addition to seeking judicial justice to detainees, the ACLU is calling upon the department of Justice to improve the conditions in the custodies. Under its National Prisons Project (NPP), it has tried to agitate for improvement of living conditions in prisons. NPP helps combat unconstitutional practices in prisons. Complaints about mistreatment or deprivation of human rights are filed and advocated by the National Prisons Project. It opposes the violation of the Eighth Amendment that protects individuals from unusual punishment and cruelty (Smith & Hung 205). It also pressures for detainees to be provided with good medical care, food, clothing and sanitation. It states out that any detainee is a human being and has the right to all basic needs and not be tortured. It is only in the case of trial and proves of guiltiness that a detainee will be reliable to appropriate punishment. In this way, ACLU helps protect detainees especially immigrants and non-citizens who have been inflicted with terrorism charges to reclaim their identity and freedom.
ACLU protecting American Privacy
With the Slogan of ACLU being “Because Freedom Cannot Protect itself”, the major compulsion of ACLU is to protect all the rights and freedoms of American nationals. This is as provided in the US constitution to make the life every American easy, smooth and comfortable. In this case the ACLU advocates for making of policies that reduces the government intrusive power into personal life affairs. This is by suggesting that the advanced information era should not be misused in exposing private undertakings of the people. An example of such a legislature was passed which had a lot of support by ACLU. It was to provide privacy to vehicle owners and ruled out that nobody should be under surveillance when you travel using car trackers. ACLU is in the fore front to guarantee that individuals take charge of their private information i.e. Individuals should be able to determine who has access to their personal information. All affiliates of ACLU in all states they represent have also advocated for the removal of surveillance cameras in public places and parks. Internet privacy has also been a key issue in protecting the privacy of American internet users. ACLU has formed many departments that protect the rights to privacy to Americans in homes, the workplace, public utilities and during travel. Though the US constitution does not directly provide for the right to privacy, this provision is provided in the bill of rights. Some amendments e.g. the 3rd and 5th of the bill of rights provides that one has right to privacy of personal information, property and unwarranted searches. The ACLU is forging for the direct reflection of such amendments in the US constitution.
ACLU’s main mission is to reclaim liberty which seems to be eroded. The Patriot Act which contains many controversial clauses has been on the main agenda of ACLU. It has been on the fore front in trying to appeal to the congress to reauthorize sensitive sections of the Patriot Act in an attempt to bring sound laws to the people.
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