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The Homeland Security Act

European Security Organization Criticizes U.S. Surveillance Law

VIENNA (The Santa Fe New Mexican / January 23, 2003) - The media watchdog in Europe's leading security organization criticized the United States on Thursday for snooping on the private lives of Americans with a law passed in response to the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks.

In a reproach to the Big Brother-like tactics creeping up on post-Sept. 11 America, Freimut Duve of the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe condemned the FBI and the U.S. Immigration and Naturalization Service for monitoring library records and bookstore receipts under the USA Patriot Act.

The act granted sweeping powers to obtain personal information about U.S. citizens in an attempt to stop future terrorist attacks. Though sympathetic to such concerns, Duve said it was evolving into an unprecedented attack on freedom to read.

" This goes much too far," he said. "It may invite other governments to do the same."

Duve sought an explanation in a letter to Secretary of State Colin Powell. Noting that secrecy surrounds the act itself, Duve said Powell should clarify the U.S. position.

Duve presented his concerns to a meeting of the Vienna-based OSCE and won support from the European Union nations and Russia.

The U.S. deputy chief of mission to the OSCE, Douglas Davidson, argued the Patriot Act sets boundaries for intrusions, giving access to such information only in the event of an investigation into international terrorism or clandestine intelligence.

"Judicial safeguards and oversight remain in place to prevent the abuse of this authority," Davidson said in a statement. "This legislation has a very narrow focus and can only be implemented in specific and narrow cases after judicial review."

It was not the first time Duve has complained about activities in the United States. He has criticized White House spokesman Ari Fleischer for advising Americans to "watch what they say."

"This kind of thing can't be said by a spokesperson of one of the oldest democracies in the world," he said. "Impossible!"

The American Civil Liberties Union has challenged the Patriot Act in U.S. courts, demanding the government produce records on how often such searches are conducted.

Though the OSCE is powerless to actually force any change in American law, Duve hopes his criticism will help spark debate on the issue. He is also looking into similar situations in some Western European countries, though he did not name which ones.

The 55-nation OSCE largely monitors human rights and elections across Eastern Europe, the Balkans and the former Soviet Union. But as an OSCE member, the United States is also subject to its scrutiny.

Because the United States is known for its democratic freedoms, Duve said the law sets a dangerous precedent for freedom of thought worldwide by inviting other countries to do "similar things."

"We are not here just to criticize the post-communist countries," he said, "and be silent on the others."