Judge Anne L. Aiken of the Federal District Court in Portland held Wednesday that portions of the USA Patriot Act are unconstitutional; specifically, she found that portions of the Act which allow searches without probable cause violate the Fourth Amendment of the U.S. Constitution.
The case centered on a Portland lawyer who was arrested and jailed after erroneously being linked to a March 2004 train bombing in Madrid. The lawyer was put under surveillance only after the Federal Bureau of Investigations, having previously been unable to match fingerprints on the scene, had enhanced the prints to match twenty potential suspects; this surveillance began even though Spanish officials apparently had doubts about the evidence. Allegedly adding to the F.B.I.’s suspicions were the facts that the Portland lawyer had converted to Islam and had previously represented a suspected Al Qaeda and Taliban member.
In finding the surveillance under the Patriot Act unconstitutional, Judge Aiken stated “a difficult balance must be struck in a manner that preserves the peace and security of our nation while at the same time preserving the constitutional rights and civil liberties of all Americans.” Judge Aiken in her opinion examined the history of the USA Patriot Act and the Federal Intelligence Surveillance Act; in authorizing surveillance if the government finds that a “significant purpose” of the surveillance is to gather foreign intelligence, Judge Aiken found that Congress’ intent was “to break down barriers between criminal law enforcement and intelligence gathering.” She found that such motive violates the Fourth Amendment, creating “extraconstitutional authority” which “is prohibited, as well as ill advised.”
Once again, this is an instance of the government taking action to prevent potential acts of terrorism, but at the cost of Constitutional freedoms guaranteed to U.S. citizens. Much like the electronic surveillance discussed here previously, the government (in this case the F.B.I.) is attempting to gain information in violation of the Fourth Amendment. While in this case, the F.B.I was attempting to gain information on a particular suspect, rather than just monitoring to prevent a general threat such as illegal immigration or “data mining”, their evidence in the case seems suspect at best. Only through enhanced digital fingerprints, with a match unconvincing to Spanish authorities and thus unlikely to meet probable cause requirements, the F.B.I. took it upon themselves to run surveillance on this Portland lawyer in violation of his rights and the rules set forth in the U.S. Constitution. While ensuring that crimes such as the train bombing in question are solved and prevented, the cost of doing so should not be the rights of the people.