DETROIT – The American Civil Liberties Union (search) filed a lawsuit in federal court Wednesday against parts of the USA Patriot Act that let authorities monitor books people read and conduct secret searches.
"Ordinary Americans should not have to worry that the FBI (search) is rifling through their medical records, seizing their personal papers, or forcing charities and advocacy groups to divulge membership lists," said ACLU attorney Ann Beeson.
In March, the U.S. Supreme Court declined without comment to consider an earlier ACLU challenge to the government's expanded surveillance powers under the act, which Congress passed after the Sept. 11, 2001, terror attacks.
The group asked the justices to consider when the government should be allowed to monitor telephone conversations and e-mail, then use the information to prosecute the monitored person.
This week's challenge was jointly announced by the ACLU in Michigan and Portland, Ore.
The Justice Department defends the act as a crucial weapon in the war on terrorism. Spokeswoman Barbara Comstock said the section targeted by the lawsuit is narrow in scope, goes to great lengths to protect First Amendment (search) rights and requires court approval to obtain records.
"The Patriot Act (search) was a long overdue measure to close gaping holes in the government's ability, responsibly and lawfully, to collect vital intelligence information on criminal terrorists to protect our citizens from savage attacks," Comstock said.
An FBI spokeswoman referred calls to the U.S. attorney's office in Detroit, which had no immediate comment.
Some of the groups participating in the lawsuit are the Washington, D.C.-based Council on American-Islamic Relations, the Muslim Community Association of Ann Arbor, Bridge Refugee and Sponsorship Services in Knoxville, Tenn., and the Islamic Center of Portland, a mosque also known as Masjed As-Saber.
The Portland Joint Terrorism Task Force (search) arrested the mosque's imam and prayer leader, Mohamed Abdirahman Kariye, on Sept. 8, 2002, sparking demonstrations on the steps of the federal courthouse in Portland.
The U.S. attorney's office accused Kariye of Social Security fraud and he was sentenced to five years probation.