Maine Civil Liberties Union Letter to Maine Delegation on Justice Department’s Misrepresentation of the USA PATRIOT Act

April 16, 2003

Re: Justice Department’s misrepresentation of USA PATRIOT Act

Dear Members of Congress:

On behalf of the 1,900 members of the Maine Civil Liberties Union, we write to bring to your attention recent events in Calais, Maine and to urge you to request the Justice Department to publicly correct misstatements made by the Deputy Director of the Justice Department’s Office of Public Affairs, Mark Corallo, to the Bangor Daily News.

In an article entitled “Calais library fights Patriot Act,” the Bangor Daily News reported on the Calais Free Library’s opposition to the USA PATRIOT Act. The head librarian expressed concerns about the FBI’s power to obtain the records of library patrons’ use of materials at the library. In response to the article, Deputy Director Corallo contacted the reporter to criticize the article. He made several comments which were printed in a follow-up article entitled “Official counters Patriot Act critics.” Following the article, on April 9, the Bangor Daily News printed an editorial critiquing Justice Department misstatements. Mr. Corallo again called the Bangor Daily News to complain about the editorial. The articles and the editorial are attached.

We are concerned that Deputy Director Corallo provided false information concerning the powers of the Justice Department under the USA PATRIOT Act to the public. Mr. Corallo is quoted as saying that the USA PATRIOT Act requires that the government demonstrate “probable cause” in order to obtain library records under § 215 of the USA PATRIOT Act. He goes on to say that the law does not apply to U.S. citizens and only applies to those suspected of being foreign spies or terrorists. Section 215 of USA PATRIOT Act states that the FBI, “may make an application for an order requiring the production of any tangible things (including books, records, papers, documents, and other items) for an investigation to protect against international terrorism or clandestine intelligence activities, provided that such investigation of a United States person is not conducted solely upon the basis of activities protected by the First Amendment to the Constitution.”

Note that this section makes no mention of “probable cause” that the person is indeed a foreign spy or terrorist, contrary to Mr. Corallo’s claims. Nor does Section 215 provide any exemption for American citizens or permanent legal residents, also contrary to Mr. Corallo’s remarks.

Mr. Corallo seems to be stating the law as it existed before the USA PATRIOT Act. We are concerned that either Mr. Corallo does not know the status of the current law or that he is misrepresenting the current law. It is the responsibility of the Office of Public Affairs to ensure that information provided to the news media by the Department is current, complete and accurate. Mr. Corallo asserts that the Justice Department is considering hosting public forums to “educate” the public about the USA PATRIOT Act. It is imperative that the information disseminated to the public in such forums and to the press be accurate.

The concerns of Maine people about the USA PATRIOT Act highlighted by the Bangor Daily News indicate that the USA PATRIOT Act merits thorough re-examination and review. Congress has an important role to play in oversight of this law and the executive branch’s use of powers under the Act.

We urge you to contact the Justice Department and ask them to ensure that Mr. Corallo’s statements are publicly corrected and that future statements do not contain similar inaccuracies.

Thank you for your consideration of our views.

Very truly yours,

Louise G. Roback
Executive Director
Maine Civil Liberties Union

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