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Wednesday, September 29, 2004

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 Patriot Act provision ruled unconstitutional

Part of the Patriot Act, a central plank of the Bush Administration's war on terror, was ruled unconstitutional by a federal judge today.

US District Judge Victor Marreo ruled in favor of the American Civil Liberties Union, which challenged the power the FBI has to demand confidential financial records from companies as part of terrorism investigations.

In June, the US Supreme Court ruled that terror suspects being held in places like Guantanamo Bay can use the American judicial system to challenge their confinement. That ruling was a defeat for the president's assertion of sweeping powers to hold "enemy combatants" indefinitely after the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks.

The ACLU sued the Department of Justice, arguing that part of the Patriot legislation violated the constitution because it authorizes the FBI to force disclosure of sensitive information without adequate safeguards.

The judge agreed, stating that the provision "effectively bars or substantially deters any judicial challenge."

The ruling was the latest blow to the Bush administration's anti-terrorism policies, and comes while the ACLU is calling on lawmakers to reject expanding the Act.

The Republican House leadership unveiled their bill, the "9/11 Commission Implementation Act," late Friday. It contains several Patriot Act 2 provisions, and other expansions on law enforcement powers not called for by the 9/11 commission. Noting that the commission did not include any recommendation of Patriot Act expansion, or that due process and judicial review in the immigration system be curtailed, the ACLU called the House bill a "virtual wish list for law enforcement that would undermine liberty."

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