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A Civil-Liberties Action

Local efforts to counteract the USA P.A.T.R.I.O.T. Act’s many civil-liberties infringements will come one step closer to fruition on Monday, when a resolution opposing the federal legislation will be introduced into the Albany Common Council.

Alderman Dominick Calsolaro (Ward 1) will present the council with a resolution asking federal and local law enforcement within the city not to take American citizens’ basic rights for granted while engaged in terrorism-related investigations. Calsolaro’s resolution specifically asks law enforcement officials “to continue to . . . uphold and defend citizens’ civil rights,” and to issue a monthly public report to the Common Council showing the extent to which they have acted under the P.A.T.R.I.O.T. Act.

“People say the attacks on our country were because of our rights and our freedoms,” Calsolaro said, “I find it a little hypocritical to go to war to defend the country and to defend your rights, but we have to take [them] away to do that.”

In the past month, a number of local activists have worked to educate Albanians about the USA P.A.T.R.I.O.T. Act and enlist support for the resolution. Heidi Siegfried, interim director of the Capital Region Chapter of the New York Civil Liberties Union until March 7, participated in an educational forum on the P.A.T.R.I.O.T. Act held at the Albany Public Library on Feb. 12.

“We’ve been trying to make this an educational bill as well,” said Siegfried. “Part of the reason why we had the P.A.T.R.I.O.T. Act forum [was to] to show how this affects our everyday lives. People don’t realize that it affects everyday life. They think it is just an immigrant problem, but it affects everybody.”

The USA P.A.T.R.I.O.T. Act, which stands for Uniting and Strengthening America by Providing Appropriate Tools Required to Intercept and Obstruct Terrorism, was created by U.S. Attorney General John Ashcroft and the Department of Justice, and was hastily passed by Congress shortly after the attacks of Sept. 11, 2001.

Since President Bush signed the P.A.T.R.I.O.T. Act into law on Oct. 26, 2001, civil libertarians have pointed to new, broadly defined criminal categories and far-reaching powers of surveillance granted to law enforcement as evidence that the basic rights granted to every U.S. citizen by the Bill of Rights are being violated.

In one of the P.A.T.R.I.O.T. Act’s more Orwellian examples of civil-liberties infringement, the legislation expanded the authority of law enforcement to obtain records from libraries and bookstores pertaining to the reading habits of individuals, and forbids librarians and bookstore personnel from disclosing that they have been asked to do so.

If the measure passes, Albany would be the third city in the state to adopt such a resolution, joining Ithaca and New Paltz, and 61 other localities nationwide.

The Common Council meeting will be held at Albany City Hall, 24 Eagle St., on Monday (March 17) in the council chambers on the second floor. A public comment period, lasting up to one half-hour, will be the first agenda item.

—Travis Durfee


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