WASHINGTON – Urging dismissal of a court challenge to the USA Patriot Act (search), the Justice Department said Friday that it has never used wide-ranging search and seizure powers in the law that are being challenged by civil rights and Muslim groups.
The lawsuit against the post-Sept. 11 statute targeting terrorism is premature and conflicts with U.S. Supreme Court rulings, the department said in 40 pages of arguments filed in federal court in Detroit.
Section 215 of the law expands the FBI's authority to secretly obtain records from various organizations, including libraries, churches, mosques, hospitals and other entities. The American Civil Liberties Union (search) has argued that change violates constitutional rights.
The Justice Department (search) said the groups challenging the law "cannot seriously contend that Section 215 fails to meet" constitutional standards. People's "Fourth Amendment rights do not extend to records or personal belongings that they have provided to third parties," the department said.
The government argued that the case should be dismissed because the portion of the law at issue has never been used.
"The Justice Department, including the FBI, recognizing the need for judicious use of its law enforcement tools, has never sought" an order "with respect to these plaintiffs or anyone else for that matter," said the department.
"While the government may use this provision under appropriate circumstances in the future, the attorney general has not, to date, found that such measures were required in an investigation."
The groups participating in the lawsuit are the Muslim Community Association of Ann Arbor, Mich.; the American-Arab Anti-Discrimination Committee; the Arab Community Center for Economic and Social Services; the Bridge Refugee and Sponsorship Services, based in Knoxville, Tenn.; the Council on American-Islamic Relations; and the Islamic Center of Portland, Ore.
An ACLU spokeswoman called the government's arguments "radical and it's wrong."
"If my right to my personal information ends when I give it to a third party, then that right has no meaning at all," said Emily Whitfield.