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Former lawmaker decries Patriot Act

Bradenton Herald | April 7, 2005

SARASOTA -It's time for conservatives and liberals to put aside their differences and support changes to the Patriot Act, a former congressman and conservative radio talk show host said Wednesday.

"We need to restore the balance," said Bob Barr, chairman of the Patriots for Checks and Balances Coalition. "In balancing between protecting our civil liberties, our most fundamental rights guaranteed by the Bill of Rights, and the protection and security of our country and our borders, the latter has taken precedence."

The coalition includes a broad range of interest groups, including the American Conservative Union, Americans for Tax Reform and the American Civil Liberties Union.

Barr, who represented Georgia's 7th Congressional District from 1995 to 2003, spoke to more than 100 students, faculty and community members in an open forum at New College of Florida. The talk ended a three-day speaking tour that included University of South Florida in Tampa and Eckerd College in St. Petersburg.

Barr's speaking tour coincides with a debate in Congress over whether to repeal, extend or expand portions of the Patriot Act, a federal law passed weeks after the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks.

Some provisions in the law allow the government - for the first time - to search records previously considered private, such as medical records, library loans and student records, without judicial review.

"We have allowed government to diminish our civil liberties," Barr said. "For the first time since its passage, portions of the Patriot Act are coming up for renewal. Some sunset at the end of this year, so Congress has to focus on it."

A bipartisan bill introduced Wednesday by Sens. Larry Craig (R-Idaho) and Richard Durbin (D-Ill.) would limit some powers granted in the original legislation.

"This is the year for protection of our civil liberties, to seize back our turf," Barr said. "We will not allow our government to take away our liberty."

Specifically, Section 215 of the Patriot Act allows law enforcement agencies to look at records without judicial oversight, a violation of the Constitution's Fourth Amendment, which states:

"The right of the people to be secure in their persons, houses, papers, and effects, against unreasonable searches and seizures, shall not be violated, and no warrants shall issue, but upon probable cause, supported by oath or affirmation, and particularly describing the place to be searched, and the persons or things to be seized."

The Patriot Act shatters that notion, Barr said.

Particularly troubling are the "sneak and peek" provisions that allow the government to search property and records without prior notice, delaying that notification for weeks or months, without judicial review.

"We are not seeking to repeal the act, just to have a degree of judicial scrutiny," Barr said. "Let the judges decide if it passes constitutional muster."

April Barnwell, 23, a New College student from St. Petersburg, said she came to Barr's talk to learn more about the Patriot Act, which she heard could take away some freedoms.

"People should stand up for their rights," she said. "If you don't know what the government is doing, if you don't learn about laws being made, it's a problem, at least to me."

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