Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman Orrin Hatch went to his home state of Utah to hear criticism of the USA Patriot Act but dismissed much of the criticism as unfounded. The Salt Lake Tribune reports that Utah U.S. Attorney Paul Warner said the law proved its worth by helping the state pull off the 2002 Winter Olympics without a major hitch.
At a Judiciary Committee session yesterday, opponents from across the political spectrum voiced concerns that the law is eroding civil liberties. They supported curbing some of the surveillance and other powers given to law enforcement under the law. “A public that is afraid that the government is seeking to obtain unchecked power will become suspicious even of legitimate antiterrorism efforts,” said Dani Eyer of the American Civil Liberties Union of Utah. Frank Mylar of the conservataive Utah Grassroots said a future administration could use the Patriot Act’s powers against conservative groups, such as anti-abortion organizations.
Hatch replied that critics “haven’t been able to show one abuse.” He said that 200 suspected terrorists had been arrested under the act.
James Comey, deputy U.S. attorney general, said the law has broken down walls between law-enforcement agencies. Comey urged the public to learn the law’s details. He singled out librarians, many of whom want to block government agents from obtaining secret court orders to find out what visitors read in libraries and customers buy in bookstores. “We have read the law,” said Deborah Caldwell-Stone of the American Library Association. “It’s not just about tearing down the walls between agencies. When tearing down the walls, they also tore down a lot of protections.”