TOM BEARDEN: In time of war, Americans have always wrestled with questions of national security versus civil liberties.
During World War II, Japanese Americans were detained in internment camps and their property was seized.
During the Cold War, the House on Un-American Activities Committee investigated people believed to have communist sympathies.
NEWSREEL SPOKESPERSON: In a series of dawn raids the FBI swooped down on the communists…
TOM BEARDEN: The FBI kept dossiers on alleged communists...a practice that was repeated when the agency kept track of many Vietnam War protesters.
The government eventually repudiated such practices.
In today's "war on terror", the Bush administration says it's trying to provide law enforcement with tools to prevent another terrorist attack on the U.S. without infringing on civil liberties. Attorney General John Ashcroft.
JOHN ASHCROFT: [December 2001] Our efforts have been carefully crafted to avoid infringing on constitutional rights while saving American lives. To those who scare peace-loving people with phantoms of lost liberty; my message is this: your tactics only aid terrorists - for they erode our national unity and diminish our resolve.
JOHN BATTELLE: Ashcroft was referring to campaigns by organizations like the American Civil Liberties Union, which is now running television ads attacking the attorney general.
AD SPOKESMAN: He's seized powers for the Bush administration no president should ever have. The right to investigate you for what you say, the right to intrude on your privacy. (fade out)
TOM BEARDEN: The ACLU has taken its argument to local governments like the Broward County Commission in south Florida.
SPOKESPERSON: I'm here representing myself, and I'm here representing a whole lot of other people like me.
TOM BEARDEN: On this day in January, local activists were lobbying Commissioner John Rodstrum to support a resolution before the commission that would urge federal authorities to respect civil rights while fighting terrorism. Their target is a law called the USA Patriot Act.
SPOKESMAN: Some of the provisions of the USA Patriot Act, the executive orders that have come after that and the Homeland Security Act are so far out there and are so broad and so outrageous that they threaten the very civil rights and civil liberties that make this country so wonderful.
TOM BEARDEN: The USA Patriot Act was passed by Congress nearly unanimously and signed into law by Pres. Bush shortly after the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks.
PRES. GEORGE W. BUSH: With my signature, this law will give intelligence and law enforcement officials important new tools to fight a present danger.
TOM BEARDEN: Among the provisions of the law, and subsequent executive orders federal investigators were given expanded authority to: conduct roving wiretaps--including conversations between suspected terrorists and their attorneys; conduct surveillance of people's homes, offices, political rallies, places of worship -- without a court order in some cases; share information between agencies; and track individuals' Internet usage and records from libraries, bookstores, hospitals and credit card companies.
SPOKESPERSON: We're asking you to protest the U.S.A. Patriot Act.
TOM BEARDEN: Resolutions opposing the USA Patriot Act, like the one before the Broward County Commission, have already been passed in over thirty local jurisdictions in fourteen states.
While largely symbolic, advocates hope they will provide some legal justification for local authorities to resist cooperating when they deem civil liberties and constitutional rights are being compromised.
COMMISSIONER BEN GRABER: So, I stand with the people here today in saying we are watching what the federal government is doing. We do look after our citizens locally and the federal government needs to know that is part of our job.
TOM BEARDEN: Hector Pesquera is the special agent in charge of the FBI office in South Florida.
He says law enforcement officials need the investigative tools granted by the patriot act to root out terrorists, particularly in Florida where fifteen of the nineteen Sept. 11 hijackers had spent some time.
HECTOR PESQUERA: There are instances where in the past of course we were unable to say for example, attend public gatherings in support of potential investigation. The Patriot Act allows us to go provided it's a public event, maybe there we may need to monitor the situation and if further investigative steps are warranted or any investigation comes out of it, it's permissible. TOM BEARDEN: What else are you doing besides going to public events?
HECTOR PESQUERA: We may be potentially conducting investigations pertaining to some other activities that before were not allowed. For example, we may go potentially to a library and through the Patriot Act provisions and through judicial review, we could obtain information regarding persons that are using the library or the library facilities to conduct business.
TOM BEARDEN: Florida's libraries have come under special scrutiny. Investigators believe that some of the hijackers used computers and books at Broward County public libraries.
Under the U.S.A. Patriot Act, investigators can compel a librarian to supply information on people suspected of being security risks...and are not allowed to disclose the fact that they've even been asked.
TOM BEARDEN: William Miller is director of libraries at Florida Atlantic University.
WILLIAM MILLER: From a librarian's perspective it's a violation of our code of professional ethics. We value people's privacy very highly and we value the right to engage in inquiry very highly. To engage in inquiry without worrying about whether somebody's going to be looking over their shoulder and saying, oh why is that person reading X or why is this person looking at Y? Just because somebody's reading a book about something, doesn't mean that they're doing that thing.
TOM BEARDEN: Howard Simon, who heads the ACLU office in South Florida, says that such tactics are reminiscent of discredited practices used by the federal government in the past...that what they're doing now was prohibited before the Patriot Act was passed.
HOWARD SIMON: I recall so clearly it being revealed about the abuse of the intelligence agencies in this country, the FBI and the CIA and how even the IRS was recruited to crack down on the president's enemies and all. And we went through years of effort to try to impose limits and controls on the intelligence agencies of this country, to make sure that they were investigating criminal activity and not political activity to make sure the CIA's mission was international and that the FBI's mission was domestic criminal activity and so on.
HECTOR PESQUERA: The past is history. The present and the future is what matters. We are, this outfit of ours, the FBI has been charged with the responsibility of preventing any new attack to the U.S. interest, abroad or here. We have to avail ourselves of every legal means in our approach to prevent such an attack. There are checks and balances in the system and the people must trust that those checks and balances will kick in and will satisfy their concerns.
TOM BEARDEN: Several members of the Muslim community in South Florida say they're not satisfied by such assurances. They believe the Patriot Act has given law enforcement an excuse to interrogate and detain people without probable cause, and they say that's created a climate of fear among Muslim Americans.
HASSAN SHAREEF: If this was all about they're going to catch terrorists and put them in jail, I would not worry, because I know what I do is right and I know I have nothing to do with that whatsoever. But I'm afraid, because it's not about catching terrorists, it's about people who disagree with the government. It's about people who look different. It's about people who act differently--and that's what scares me because I'm not changing the fact that I'm Muslim for anybody.
IBRAHIM DREMALI: I know people, that are American and their kids born in this country, after this, they leave the country completely -- and I know doctors, really good doctors, they leave the country completely and are afraid. A lot of people are afraid, honestly.
TOM BEARDEN: The FBI's Pesquera says inflammatory speech is investigated, but he says, innocent people have nothing to fear.
HECTOR PESQUERA: The fact that someone is attending a mosque -- based on their religious belief will not make that person a subject of an investigation. In fact, it won't even make him a matter of record keeping by the FBI. However, our agents, of course, if they go there will, will assess and monitor to see whether there's a potential criminal violation in the making.
TOM BEARDEN: Another fear is that many of the new legal processes are cloaked in secrecy.
Stephen Lauer heads the domestic security initiative office at the Florida Department of Law Enforcement.
He says he understands why people are afraid that abuses will occur in any secret program...but he says that's the way it has to work to be effective.
STEPHEN LAUER, Florida Department of Law Enforcement: I can't go to the Muslim community or any community and say hey because this is going on secret, trust me, I'm from the government. Well, that's all I can say. I am from the government and I do know that the procedures that are in place are intended to ensure that the system, that this process is not abused, that we actually have good leads, credible leads that lead to these kinds of investigations.
TOM BEARDEN: On its own initiative, Florida has tried to integrate its anti-terrorism efforts with federal agencies.
For example, the Florida Department of Law Enforcement operates a computer system called ThreatNet, which provides a central source of terror-related investigatory information-- a database on suspicious persons.
SPOKESMAN: The system is very simple. Somebody calls in, for instance, a tip or a name. The first thing I do is go check the system to see if we've already got any information on that person.
TOM BEARDEN: In addition, state police officers like Taroub Gauding, who is Arab-American and speaks Arabic, have received training that allows them to act as agents of the Immigration and Naturalization Service.
It's part of a pilot program that's being considered as a model for the nation.
TAROUB GAUDING: One of the advantages of having the ins authority to deal with domestic security issues, is it allows us to learn more about the subject's status in the United States -- whereas prior to having this authority, we can now request to see their passport; we can request to see the subject's visa and any other immigration documents that we feel are necessary to make a determination of whether or not they're in the country lawfully or are they out of status - whatever else that comes along …
TOM BEARDEN: Civil libertarians are concerned that giving local and state police authority to enforce immigration law opens the door to racial and ethnic profiling.
They are pushing for more local municipalities to pass anti Patriot Act resolutions...in an effort to pressure Congress to revisit the act.
Meanwhile, the Justice Department is submitting a new bill to Congress that would further expand powers granted by the Patriot Act.