"We don't know the full facts" about the investigation into Hamid and Umer Hayat, acknowledged Anthony Romero, who took the ACLU's reins a week before the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks.
But whether or not USA PATRIOT Act provisions have been used to build the case, all terrorism investigations should be subject to adequate judicial review and public scrutiny, he told reporters at the Northern California ACLU's headquarters.
Romero also cautioned against a rush to judgment, noting the government has been "quite confident in other terrorism investigations, which, quite frankly, have fallen apart."
While most of the PATRIOT Act causes no concern to civil libertarians, parts of the law Congress rushed onto the books in October 2001 have stirred opposition from both sides of the political aisle.
Some of those controversial provisions sunset at the end of this year, and the Bush administration has made a priority of extending and even expanding them.
Senate Intelligence Committee members, in a closed-door hearing Tuesday, voted 11-4 to advance the bill, which would give the FBI expanded power to subpoena records without a judge's or grand jury's approval in terrorism investigations.
Romero said Thursday the bill apparently would widen the government's reach from Internet records to employment, health, library and many other sorts of information. This is too much power concentrated in one branch of government, he said.
Romero also expressed concern about new "track mail" powers being considered broader authority for the FBI to order the U.S. Postal Service to turn over names, addresses and any other information on the outside of letters sent to or from the subjects of foreign intelligence probes.
This trend toward lessened judicial review and use of foreign-intelligence powers in domestic investigations bodes poorly for Americans' civil rights, he said.
Romero said he's seen "a renewed interest" on these issues from Sen. Dianne Feinstein, D-Calif., an Intelligence Committee member who at times in the past has been "more dismissive of some of the civil liberties concerns than we would've preferred."
Feinstein contacted the ACLU two months ago requesting information on instances in which PATRIOT Act provisions have been abused, and that information later became the basis for some pointed questions posed to Attorney General Alberto Gonzales.
President Bush, speaking to a law enforcement group Thursday morning in Ohio, quoted Feinstein as having said no reported abuses had been found.
But Feinstein issued a statement later Thursday saying that while she does support extending the 16 PATRIOT Act provisions, she doesn't support expanding the law's reach.
The House Judiciary Committee of which Rep. Zoe Lofgren, D-San Jose, is the only Bay Area member meets today to continue considering the PATRIOT Act's reauthorization.
Contact Josh Richman at email@example.com.