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N.Y. City Council Passes Anti-Patriot Act Measure

By Michelle Garcia
Special to The Washington Post
Thursday, February 5, 2004; Page A11

NEW YORK, Feb. 4 -- New York City, site of the country's most horrific terrorist attack, Wednesday became the latest in a long list of cities and towns that have formally opposed the expanded investigatory powers granted to law enforcement agencies under the USA Patriot Act.

The New York City Council approved a resolution condemning the law, enacted by Congress six weeks after the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks, with a voice vote in its chambers a few blocks from the gaping hole at Ground Zero.

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"The Patriot Act is really unpatriotic, it undermines our civil rights and civil liberties," said council member Bill Perkins (D-Manhattan), the bill's sponsor. "We never give up our rights that's what makes us Americans."

The resolution criticized the Patriot Act for allowing infringements on privacy rights. Among other provisions, the Patriot Act allows investigators to see citizens' library records and eases requirements for search warrants. The council requested that Congress deliver periodic reports accounting for the information and records on New Yorkers the federal government has culled under the Patriot Act, but the measure has no means to enforce that request.

The vote follows months of negotiations between resolution supporters and New York City Council leadership. A major sticking point in the original proposal of the resolution centered on language prohibiting the New York Police Department from enforcing immigration laws, collecting information on activist groups and businesses, and refraining from establishing an anti-terrorism reporting database.

After Wednesday's vote, City Council Speaker Gifford Miller (D) said the measure in its final version "strikes the right balance."

"The resolution has evolved to focus on what's really needed: amendments to the law to protect civil liberties particularly, at a time of war," he said.

New York joins 246 municipalities and counties and three states that have passed legislation in opposition to the Patriot Act, according to the Bill of Rights Defense Committee, an organization that helps local governments craft anti-Patriot Act legislation.

"So much is being done in the name of New York, we are saying don't use our name to infringe on people's rights," said Glenn C. Devitt, an organizer with the Bill of Rights Defense Committee.

Local governments in Virginia and Maryland have approved similar measures, including Montgomery County, Prince George's County and Alexandria.

Mark Corallo, a Justice Department spokesman, dismissed the local governments' resolutions, saying the majority were passed in locales with left-leaning constituencies and based on "erroneous" information about the Patriot Act.

Corallo said the act has been "one of the most important tools Congress has given the government to fight terrorism and prevent terrorist acts."

A handful of New York council members, both Democrats and Republicans, agreed and voted against the resolution.

Dennis Gallagher, a Republican from Queens, called the resolution a vehicle for attacking the Bush administration. New York suffered a great loss on Sept. 11, 2001, he said. The Patriot Act "is one step in ensuring this never happens again."

But at a rally of supporters, Monica Tarazi, New York director of the American-Arab Anti-Discrimination Committee, said the Patriot Act and other tactics to fight terrorism has sowed fear within New York's ethnic communities and activists.

"This country is not about registering [people] and ethnic profiling," she said. "We need this [resolution]. We need this as Americans."


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