Tuesday, 27 January 2004
Patriot Act provision struck down
It was bound to happen sooner or later. A federal District Judge in Los Angeles has struck down a provision of the USA PATRIOT Act as unconstitutional. The New York Times highlights the First Amendment argument advanced by the Humanitarian Law Project: "[S]everal humanitarian groups that work with Kurdish refugees in Turkey and Tamil residents of Sri Lanka had sued the government, arguing in a lawsuit that the antiterrorism act was so ill defined that they had stopped writing political material and helping organize peace conferences for fear that they would be prosecuted."
The provision at issue forbids U.S. citizens from giving "expert advice or assistance" to known terrorist groups. As written, this language would prevent a dentist from cleaning a terrorist's teeth — there is nothing to limit the prohibition to advice or assistance that could be used to further terrorism. The court summarized this shortcoming: "The USA Patriot Act places no limitation on the type of expert advice and assistance which is prohibited, and instead bans the provision of all expert advice and assistance regardless of its nature." Naturally, this vague rule would encompass "unequivocally pure speech and advocacy protected by the First Amendment." Therefore, the First Amendment demanded that it be struck down.