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Civil Liberties Union – Dolores Bilges

June 9, 2006 @ 12:00 am EDT


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This morning we had a presentation from Dolores Bilges, Executive Director of the NY Civil Liberties Union. NYCLU is the local representatives of the national organization, ACLU.


We, or at least I, had the image of a large organization with an active agenda. Not so! The NYCLU is a small organization with no legal staff. When they get a complaint and need a lawyer to bring suit, they hire one or more lawyers. There is however an active board of directors. What surprised me was the makeup of the board. Seventy percent of the board are registered Republicans.


According to Ms. Bilges, the Civil Liberties Union has only one client, the Constitution of the United States, and in particular The Bill of Rights. Any suit brought on behalf of any person or group of persons is principally designed to protect those guaranteed freedoms


We discussed the PATRIOT Act in some detail. The CLU actually supports the bulk of the provisions in the act. However they take exception to the ability to harvest library records, medical records and other personal information without a warrant. At the same time the PATRIOT Act forbids the person or institution that supplies records from disclosing that the records have been turned over..


When we began the Q&A portion the discussion was lively to say the least. There were some that felt that as long as you have done nothing wrong, you have nothing to fear. Others were more adamant about keeping the ordinary citizens secrets, just that, secret. As the discussion continued there were nuanced rejoinders, where participants were able to agree that some basic freedoms can be, and must be, protected, while at the same time aggressively tracking terrorists.


As we were thanking our speaker, I said that this was a good and honest debate from people who had differences on the topic. This is the debate that never took place in Congress. After 9/11 we were all so eager to stop the carnage demonstrated by the savage blow delivered to America. In their haste and fear Congress approved what many people now see as an over reaction. Of course, not all the audience saw it that way, but many of them on both sides of the argument said they were pleased that they attended.