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Comes the Resolution

To a burst of applause from the dozen civil libertarians who came out to support the measure, the Albany Common Council passed a resolution Monday (May 19) calling for a repeal of the USA P.A.T.R.I.O.T. Act.

In doing so, Albany joined 108 other towns, cities and counties nationwide whose local governments have expressed opposition to the federal legislation pushed through Congress after the terrorist attacks of Sept. 11, 2001.

The Patriot Act (which stands for Uniting and Strengthening America by Providing Appropriate Tools Required to Intercept and Obstruct Terrorism) grants law enforcement greater and easier access to telephone, medical, library and other personal information of individuals suspected of terrorist activities. Civil libertarians have long decried the law, saying many of its provisions infringe upon the basic civil liberties granted to all U.S. citizens by the Bill of Rights.

The Council passed the resolution, sponsored by Alderman James Sano (Ward 9), 10-3 after nearly two months of deliberation and three drafts of a measure that came up against a fair amount of opposition. Alderman Daniel Herring (Ward 13), Joseph Igoe (Ward 14) and Sandra Fox (Ward 15) voted against the resolution Monday night.

“I do have serious issues with the Patriot Act, but we lost focus in the grandstanding—passing the resolution became a P.R. exercise rather than a look at the serious issues,” Herring said. “This resolution didn’t even recognize the current debate about repealing the sunset provisions attached to the Patriot Act.”

But Alderman Dominick Calsolaro (Ward 1), who initially introduced a resolution in March asking local law enforcement to inform the council when taking part in terrorism-related investigations that could possibly infringe on citizens’ civil liberties, was pleased that his months of work had come to fruition.

“We’ve had this open and free discussion for months, yet we have some who were afraid to vote on the issue,” said Calsolaro, who cosponsored the resolution. “It took a few months, but I’d rather take the time and have a good resolution rather than do it hastily and have it fail.”

Melanie Trimble, executive director of the Capital Region Chapter of the New York Civil Liberties Union, said local resolutions like Albany’s are important because they help raise issues of constitutionality related to the Patriot Act.

“There is great debate about whether localities can blatantly ignore federal law and go by their local law,” Trimble said. “There are a lot of legal issues involved as to how well these things can be enforced, but unless you find a brave local legislative body [to challenge the Patriot Act’s provisions], we will never see the law tested in court.”

—Travis Durfee

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