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  ACLU Drops Patriot Act Challenge

Associated Press | October 31, 2006
By JIM IRWIN

DETROIT (AP) -- The American Civil Liberties Union on Friday dropped a lawsuit challenging the constitutionality of the USA Patriot Act.

The ACLU said it was withdrawing the lawsuit filed more than three years ago because of "improvements to the law." The Justice Department argued last month that amendments approved by Congress in March 2006 had corrected any constitutional flaws in the Patriot Act.

"While the reauthorized Patriot Act is far from perfect, we succeeded in stemming the damage from some of the Bush administration's most reckless policies," Ann Beeson, associate legal director of the ACLU in New York, said in a written statement.

The lawsuit, filed in July 2003 on behalf of the Muslim Community Association of Ann Arbor and five other nonprofit groups, was the first legal challenge to Section 215, the part of the Patriot Act that lets federal agents obtain such things as library records and medical information.

The ACLU said the revisions allow people receiving demands for records to consult with a lawyer and challenge the demands in court.

The Justice Department, which first asked that the lawsuit be dismissed in December 2003, said it was pleased by the ACLU's action, which was contained in a one-paragraph notice filed with U.S. District Judge Denise Page Hood in Detroit.

"We ... reiterate that the Patriot Act is a legitimate and important tool that has better helped law enforcement fight terrorism while simultaneously protecting our valued civil liberties," Justice spokeswoman Tasia Scolinos said.

The ACLU argued that Section 215, which allows the FBI access to any "tangible things" such as books and documents through an order from a secret court, does not require investigators to show probable cause. It asked that the Justice Department be barred from using the provision.

Hood ruled on Oct. 3 that the ACLU's clients had shown they were harmed by the anti-terrorism law adopted after the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks and that the lawsuit could proceed. But the ruling came after the law had been amended, prompting the ACLU to drop its case.

The ACLU said it would continue to monitor how the government applied Section 215 and would remain ready to defend any individual, business or organization receiving demands for information under the provision.

The group also said it is continuing its legal fight against a more frequently used provision of the Patriot Act that authorizes national security letters. Such letters allow the executive branch of government to obtain records about people in terrorism and espionage investigations without a judge's approval or a grand jury subpoena.

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