Murkowski introduces bill to weaken Patriot Act

Posted: Sunday, August 03, 2003

FAIRBANKS (AP) Ten days after U.S. Attorney General John Ashcroft defended the USA Patriot Act in her home state, U.S. Sen. Lisa Murkowski has filed legislation to roll back some of its provisions.

''To date it appears portions of the Patriot Act may have moved the scales out of balance,'' Murkowski said Friday.

Congress passed the Patriot Act after the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks to give law enforcement officers more power to investigate future threats.

The Legislature and municipalities in Fairbanks and Anchorage were among dozens of groups that protested the law's reach.

Murkowski said her bill, SB 1552, would not repeal any part of the Patriot Act but would limit some of the police powers it granted.

For example, it still would allow a delay in announcing a search warrant but only in terrorism cases and only when the delay was necessary to protect someone's safety, to prevent a suspect from fleeing or to prevent evidence tampering.

It also would require the government to show probable cause to search medical, library or video rental records.

Police would have to specify a target suspect or a physical location before obtaining a court order for a wiretap.

''We're absolutely thrilled,'' said Jennifer Rudinger, director of the Alaska Civil Liberties Union. ''It's a very good compromise bill. It basically will prevent the government from conducting these fishing expeditions.''

She said Murkowski deserves credit for responding to her constituents.

''She's listening, and we're happy,'' Rudinger said.

Sen. Ron Wyden, D-Ore., co-sponsored the legislation.

Ashcroft, in an Anchorage news conference July 20, said the Patriot Act has been misconstrued by critics.

''Using these tools secures the liberty of our citizens,'' he said. ''Using these tools can save innocent lives.''

U.S. Rep. Don Young, R-Alaska, also has said the Patriot Act went too far. He has joined 128 other co-sponsors of a bill by Rep. Bernie Sanders, I-Vt., that would prevent federal law enforcement officers from demanding patron records from libraries and bookstores.

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