Security and Privacy

Right-Left Coalition Letter Endorsing the SAFE Act, October 15, 2003

October 15, 2003

Re: Support S. 1709, the Security and Freedom Enhanced (SAFE) Act of 2003

Dear Senator:

We, the undersigned organizations, are writing in strong support of the S. 1709, the Security and Freedom Enhanced (SAFE) Act of 2003, sponsored by a strong bipartisan team lead by Senators Larry Craig (R-ID) and Richard Durbin (D-IL) and including Senators Crapo (R-ID), Feingold (D-WI), Sununu (R-NH), Wyden (D-OR) and Bingaman (D-NM).

The government has taken many steps, which we support, to combat terrorism. However, we reject the idea that it is necessary to sacrifice civil liberties in order to increase security. For that reason, our organizations agree that the powers authorized by the USA PATRIOT Act should be balanced with appropriate safeguards, including meaningful judicial and Congressional oversight. Now is the time to correct some of the provisions of the USA PATRIOT Act by passing the SAFE Act.

The SAFE Act would prevent fishing expeditions into sensitive personal records by requiring that the records in foreign intelligence investigations sought pertain to an alleged spy, terrorist or other foreign agent. In contrast, under the USA PATRIOT Act, federal agents can get a court to order that anyone's library or other records be turned over regardless of whether there is any suspicion about the person whose records are turned over.

The SAFE Act allows roving wiretaps in intelligence investigations, but requires that the government make sure the target is actually using the telephone or other device it is monitoring.

The SAFE Act would apply this safeguard, which already protects innocent conversations in criminal investigations, to roving intelligence wiretaps. The SAFE Act makes sure "sneak and peek" searches are subject to meaningful judicial oversight and are not approved as a matter of routine. Under the SAFE Act, the government may get a court to delay notice of a search only to protect someone's life or safety or to prevent flight from prosecution or to prevent destruction of evidence. Notice would be delayed only for seven days - instead of an indefinite period - and the seven-day period could be renewed only with court permission.

Finally, the SAFE Act would sunset the "sneak and peek" search provision of the USA PATRIOT Act, and three other provisions of the law that expand surveillance powers. This, along with new reporting requirements, would enhance Congress's role in overseeing the way the government is using powers granted in the USA PATRIOT Act.

Finding the right way to fight terrorism while preserving privacy and civil liberties is demanding, but essential. We applaud Senators Craig and Durbin for introducing the SAFE Act and urge you to co-sponsor it. With your help, it can become law this year.


David Keene, Chairman
American Conservative Union

Larry Pratt, Executive Director
Gun Owners of America

Steve Lillienthal, Director
Center for Privacy and Technology Policy
Free Congress Foundation

Laura Murphy, Director
Washington Legislative Office
American Civil Liberties Union

Jim Dempsey, Executive Director
Center for Democracy and Technology

Lisa Dean
Washington Policy Liason
Electronic Frontier Foundation

Christopher Finan, President
American Booksellers Foundation for Free Expression

Lynne Bradley, Director
Office of Government Relations
American Library Association