ACLU Launches Campaign To Defend The Constitution

News Release: 
Friday, November 20, 2009

As the nation approaches the one-year anniversary of the USA PATRIOT Act, the American Civil Liberties Union today announced a new nationwide effort to recover the freedoms that Attorney General John Ashcroft and the Bush Administration have rolled back since last year's terrorist attacks. "Keep America Safe and Free: The Campaign to Defend the Constitution" is a national effort involving litigation, grassroots organizing, and community education in all 50 states.

The ACLU is mobilizing its resources on a scale never seen before in the organization's 80-year history. Included is a major national advertising campaign highlighting Attorney General Ashcroft's attacks on civil liberties. The hard-hitting advertisements are running in the Seattle area from Oct. 16 to 20 on ABC, CBS, NBC, CNN, MSNBC, CNBC, A & E, and the Learning Channel.

"Our nation is facing the greatest threats to civil liberties since the McCarthy era. Defending freedom is more important than ever in times of crisis. America needs to be secure, and we also must preserve the checks and balances on our government that are essential to liberty," said Kathleen Taylor, Executive Director of the ACLU of Washington.

The nationwide campaign aims to repeal the anti-liberty features of the USA PATRIOT Act. In Washington, the ACLU also will focus its efforts on ways in which the war on terrorism is curtailing basic freedoms of people in our state. Our seven-pronged action plan addresses the following concerns:

Right to Read: Under the USA PATRIOT Act, the government can secretly obtain records of which books a person has checked out from a library or has purchased from a bookstore without evidence that they are suspected of a crime. To alert readers to this chilling government authority, the ACLU is making available warning signs about how the PATRIOT Act affects readers' privacy. The signs were developed in cooperation with the Washington Library Association for libraries to post. Further, the ACLU is prepared to provide legal representation to any library or bookstore that receives a subpoena or search warrant seeking disclosure of people's reading records.

Right to Privacy: Attorney General Ashcroft has established Operation TIPS (Terrorism Information and Prevention System) to enlist hundreds of thousands of Americans to spy on their fellow citizens. This is a misguided and dangerous program that encourages snooping on others based on vague notions of what is "suspicious" activity. The ACLU will investigate whether local governments in Washington are recruiting their employees to become snoops for Operation TIPS.

Right To Travel: Federal officials have compiled a list of people who may be prevented from flying because they are deemed suspicious. It seems that no agency has the responsibility for being accountable for the fairness of this list, and there appears to be no way that persons wrongly placed on it can get themselves removed. Already there are reports of people being stopped at airports because of their lawful political activism. The ACLU wants to hear from any Washington residents who are barred from flying because of their political views.

Freedom from Surveillance: The ACLU mobilized opposition in the 2002 Washington Legislature to proposals for increased wiretapping authority and other overly broad anti-terrorism measures. We understand that the Governor already is circulating a draft of new anti-terrorism legislation to present to the 2003 state legislature. The ACLU will continue to resist efforts to pass unnecessary measures that diminish freedoms.

Right to Dissent: The 1970s brought revelations that the Seattle Police Department had maintained hundreds of secret files on civil rights activists, members of the media, and others. In response, the Seattle City Council in 1979 passed the Police Intelligence Ordinance to bar surveillance of people based on their political or religious views. The law has stood us in good stead for more than 20 years. The ACLU will organize opposition to efforts that again would allow law enforcement to investigate people solely on the basis of their political or religious views, without suspicion of criminal activity.

Freedom from Discrimination: Attorney General Ashcroft is encouraging local police forces to add enforcement of federal immigration laws to their duties. This misguided effort will alienate local police from ethnic communities and lead to instances of discriminatory enforcement by local officers untrained in the intricacies of federal immigration law. The ACLU is working with the Hate Free Zone Campaign, the Northwest Immigrant Rights Project, and others to pass an ordinance barring City of Seattle employees from taking on federal immigration law enforcement duties.

Know Your Rights: The ACLU has spoken to over 80 community groups, classes, and conferences around the state about the threats to the Constitution since September 11. We are inviting any interested organization to hear an ACLU speaker discuss our concerns. We invite organizations and individuals to take actions in support of the "Safe and Free" campaign. We encourage people to look at the wealth of information about civil liberties and national security on our Web site at and

Taylor pointed out that the ACLU already has filed two-dozen lawsuits around the country challenging government actions that violate constitutional rights. In Washington, the ACLU is representing two Somali merchants in Seattle seeking compensation from the U.S. Treasury Department for losses suffered in an unjust raid on their business. Since 9/11 the ACLU has seen a surge in membership - an almost 12 percent growth in the past year.