An unusual coalition of conservative groups and the American Civil Liberties Union opened a public campaign yesterday to scale back the enhanced surveillance powers granted to law enforcement after the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks.
The alliance, Patriots to Restore Checks and Balances, urged Congress to let sections of the USA Patriot Act expire at year's end and modify what it called other "extreme provisions" of the law. Sixteen provisions, all related to surveillance powers, will expire Dec. 31 unless Congress extends them.
The group, headed by former representative Bob Barr (R-Ga.), also urged President Bush in a letter to reconsider his support for full renewal of the law.
"We agree the Patriot Act is necessary to provide law enforcement with the resources it needs to defeat terrorism, but we are concerned that some of its provisions go beyond that mission and infringe on the rights of law-abiding Americans," the group said on its Web site, www.checksbalances.org.
Bush and Attorney General Alberto R. Gonzales have called on Congress to renew the Patriot Act in full. Gonzales said on Feb. 28 that although he would welcome a debate in Congress on the topic, "What I will not support are changes in law that would make America more vulnerable to terrorist attacks."
Drafted and enacted 45 days after the Sept. 11 attacks, the Patriot Act broadened the power of the FBI and police agencies to intercept communications, and allowed intelligence officials to share information from foreign surveillance investigations with law enforcement.