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Stanford Report, November 19, 2003

ACLU chief wins new Law School award


USA Patriot Act 'fundamentally changed the role of civil liberties in this country,' Romero says

Anthony Romero, executive director of the American Civil Liberties Union, told an audience of about 200 people Nov. 12 that his group's efforts to reverse a number of the provisions of the USA Patriot Act have reached a tipping point. "Increasingly, the momentum is against making permanent these powers," he told an enthusiastic crowd gathered for a dinner in his honor at the Schwab Residential Center.

Romero, who graduated from Stanford Law School in 1990, was in town to accept the inaugural Stanford Public Interest Lawyer of the Year Award. The Law School and the Stanford Public Interest Law Foundation selected him for his leadership at the ACLU following the terrorist attacks of Sept. 11, 2001.

During the past two years, Romero has led a campaign against reauthorizing provisions in the Patriot Act that make it easier to wiretap suspects, use intelligence information for criminal prosecutions and investigate people for crimes without the past standards of probable cause. "The act fundamentally changed the role of civil liberties in this country," Romero said. "It has provided a way for the government to seek information on law-abiding citizens when there's no evidence they have done anything wrong."

In what Romero cited as perhaps the worst abuse so far, the government has imprisoned at least two citizens suspected of being terrorists without naming the charges against them or giving them the opportunity to meet with a lawyer. "I once would have thought that under no circumstances could that happen in this country," he said. But Romero added that many are now beginning to question such behavior. "You can hear the rumbling of the debate," he said.