Oakland City Council condemns USA Patriot Act

OAKLAND, Calif. – In one of its final actions of 2002, Oakland’s City Council on Dec. 17 became the 19th and largest city to issue a sharp rebuff to the USA Patriot Act. The Council’s resolution, calling on California’s Congressional delegation to actively work to repeal the act and related executive orders, passed by a vote of 7-1.

The measure affirms the council’s strong opposition to terrorism and also “affirms that any efforts to end terrorism not be waged at the expense of the fundamental civil rights and liberties of the people of Oakland, the United States and the World.”

It states that “to the extent legally possible, no city employee or department shall officially assist or voluntarily cooperate with investigations, interrogations, or arrest procedures, public or clandestine, that are in violation of individuals’ civil rights or civil liberties” as stated in the Bill of Rights and the Fourteenth Amendment.

The resolution lists provisions of the Patriot Act that have the potential to violate the constitutional rights of Oakland residents. The list includes increased government power to designate domestic groups as “terrorist organizations,” expanded authority for law enforcement to obtain library records, authorization of eavesdropping on confidential communications between lawyers and their clients in federal custody, limits on disclosure of public records under the Freedom of Information Act, and granting of power to the Attorney General to subject citizens of other nations to indefinite detention or deportation even if they have committed no crime.

Introduced by City Councilwoman Nancy Nadel and Council President Ignacio de la Fuente, the resolution was endorsed by over 20 organizations including the Oakland Civil Rights Defense Committee, the Labor Immigrant Organizing Network (LION), the Oakland Library Advisory Commission, El Centro Legal de la Raza, the Paul Robeson chapter of the American Civil Liberties Union and Filipinos for Affirmative Action.

“If we trade in our civil liberties for some abstract sense of security, we lose the very freedom for which our country claims to stand,” Nadel said. De la Fuente cited concerns about the impact on immigrants and people of color, who make up 76 percent of Oakland’s population.

The city’s Public Library Commission and Police Department have stated their opposition to the Patriot Act.

President Bush signed the USA Patriot Act into law on Oct. 26, 2001. It greatly expands the government’s authority to plant wiretaps, enter homes, search computers and carry out other covert surveillance. The act also allows the FBI to subpoena private customer records from libraries, bookstores, hospitals and credit card companies, and makes it illegal for the recipient of such a subpoena to talk about it. Among members of Congress opposing the USA Patriot Act was Rep. Barbara Lee (D-Calif.), who noted that it “fundamentally alters the nature of our civil liberties” and “does little to increase public safety.”

City councils in Santa Cruz, Sebastopol, Berkeley, Denver and other cities have passed resolutions opposing the Patriot Act and similar efforts are underway in over 50 cities in 25 states.

The author can be reached at ncalview@igc.org