Demonstrators protest USA PATRIOT Act

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(Host) Dozens of people gathered in Montpelier on Friday to protest the USA PATRIOT Act. Speakers say the sweeping federal law, drafted in the months following the September 11 attacks, weakens civil liberties and will do little to protect the country against terrorism.

VPR’s John Dillon has more:

(Dillon) Under threatening skies, a small crowd gathered on the Statehouse lawn to hear about the USA PATRIOT Act. The official name of the law is a mouthful. The initials stand for Uniting and Strengthening America by Providing Appropriate Tools to Intercept and Obstruct Terrorism. Those tools include expanded wiretap authority, and the ability of the federal government to find out what books you buy or borrow.

David Putter is a Montpelier lawyer who is co-chairman of the legal panel for the Vermont chapter of the American Civil Liberties Union. He says the country has gone through similar periods when civil liberties were sacrificed in times of war.

(Putter) “I think we see it at various times during the history of our country. After the Civil War, we regretted the suspension of the writ of habeus corpus. After the First World War, we regretted some of the things we did to peace activists and demonstrators there. During the Second World War we treated the Japanese Americans atrociously and we now regret that. The time will come when we will regret this as well.”

(Dillon) Putter says Friday’s demonstration shows there’s a growing opposition to the law.

(Putter) “There’s also an unusual coalition of people from the conservative right and the left. They have been pushed so far that they have come together that they agree at this point. People are speaking out. People are thinking about it.”

(Dillon) The Act has also politicized many librarians and booksellers. They’re upset that the government now has the authority to find out what books people are reading. Trina Magi is a research librarian at the University of Vermont.

(Magi) “As a librarian, it’s my job to make sure people feel comfortable researching any topic they want to. You know if somebody wants to look into nuclear energy and they’re also interested in al Qaeda. As a librarian, I’ve seen enough research to know that it’s not really realistic to say that that combination necessarily means anything. So I’m worried about the chilling effect. I also just think this is not going to be terribly effective in fighting the war against terrorism.”

(Dillon) Magi and other Vermont librarians have worked with Congressman Bernie Sanders on a bill that rolls back sections of the PATRIOT Act.

For Vermont Public Radio, I’m John Dillon in Montpelier.

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