Decries Patriot Act’s Abuses at Student Meeting
Nathan J. Heller
The Harvard Crimson
October 10, 2003
The USA Patriot
Act threatens the civil liberties of all students, particularly
protesters and dissenters, an American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU)
official told a group of about 30 undergraduates last night.
At a makeshift podium
of two wooden crates, Nancy U. Murray ’67, who directs the
ACLU’s Bill of Rights Education Project, said the Patriot
Act enabled government agents to undertake extreme action without
Murray painted a
dire picture of the Patriot Act’s implications, citing secret
subpoenas of personal records, unreported searches by campus police,
an abolition of due-cause requirements for apprehension and creation
of “magic lantern” software that secretly reports
e-mail content and Internet usage information back to government
Her talk formed the
centerpiece of an evening discussion of the Patriot Act and its
implications sponsored by the Campaign for Campus Liberties, the
Black Students Association and the Harvard Progressive Advocacy
She told students
that the recent legislation has extended the definition of domestic
terrorism so as to equate some acts of basic protests with subversive
“Our fear is
that students and other members of the general public can be labeled
terrorists if they engage in certain kinds of protest,”
Citing what she called
an “extreme example” of the Patriot Act’s effects
within a university environment, Murray recounted 120 federal
agents’ 4 a.m. raid on dormitories at the University of
Idaho last winter to apprehend the president of the student Islamic
society and round up 20 other international students on suspicion
of subversive activity.
The apprehended student,
she said, was an established member of the university community
with a wife and child who could easily have been contacted for
questioning through less extreme means.
Murray compared Attorney
General John Ashcroft’s sensibilities to those of J. Edgar
Hoover—but added that technology has made the pursuit of
unreasonable search and seizures easier for Ashcroft than for
his infamous predecessor.
“Today we have
the technology of the film Minority Report and we have an attorney
general who believes in pre-crime,” she said.
Although the government
established the Patriot Act to counteract terrorist activity,
Murray said the expanded powers it grants governmental officials
have been used to investigate far pettier crimes, violating the
rights of suspected criminals.
“Now, in the
last month or so, we’ve learned that these expanded powers
are being used against citizens and against criminals,”
she said. “The law permits ordinary citizens to be locked
up indefinitely, possibly for life, without due cause.”
Many of the legislation’s
initial provisions will expire in December 2004, and Murray said
she believes much of the Patriot Act will go unrenewed. The legislation
is beginning to elicit strong criticism across governmental and
partisan lines, she said.
“There is good
news,” she said. “Not only is Congress waking up,
people are waking up.”
But for civil rights
activists like Murray, the job is far from done. Follow-up legislation
dubbed the Patriot Act II is currently being drafted in Washington.
presentation, many of the students present joined in a discussion
session to brainstorm courses of action to spread information
about the Patriot Act.
Youth activists from
the ACLU have declared the week of Oct. 26 “National Week
of Student Action to Oppose the Patriot Act.”
Harvard student activists
hope to help mobilize an effort to speak out against the Patriot
Act at Harvard and other institutions, said Rachel S. Bolden-Kramer
The group also hopes
to bring student concerns to the University’s administrative
“We hope to
get the administration to recognize that the Patriot Act is dangerous
for students,” she said.
Scott F. Goldman
’04, a member of the Harvard Progressive Advocacy Group,
said he attended the meeting to learn about the Patriot Act because
of his interest in student rights and because he is considering
a career with a governmental agency. He said that, coming to the
meeting without strong views on the Patriot Act, he left opposed
to some of its provisions.
clear to me now is that there are parts of the Patriot Act that
I think are excessive,” he said.