U.S. Attorney Paul Charlton defended the often-criticized USA Patriot Act on Saturday, telling a Scottsdale group that most dissent was based on misunderstanding and hyperbole.
Charlton, head of the Arizona District, told roughly 30 people at the Scottsdale Republican Forum that the legislation passed quickly after the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks didn’t give federal agencies much more authority than had been available before.
The primary difference, he said, is that the investigative tools available in narcotic and other cases can now be used to hunt terrorists.
For instance, FBI agents looking for Ted Kaczynski, the Unabomber, already used one of the Patriot Act’s most controversial sections, he said.
When the Unabomber issued a manifesto mentioning an obscure German philosopher, federal agents subpoenaed libraries and bookstores to find people who had acquired books on that philosopher.
"These are concerns you could have had 20 years ago," Charlton said. "Nobody raised those concerns, though, and I would suggest it’s because prosecutors did use discretion."
Scottsdale City Councilman Bob Littlefield, who challenged parts of the law during Charlton’s presentation, later said he would not vote for a resolution to oppose it, which Flagstaff and Tucson did.
"Even if you don’t like it, it’s the wrong forum," he said.
State Rep. Russell Pearce, R-Mesa, said he plans to introduce a statewide resolution denouncing the law, saying it compromises the U.S. Constitution and allows government to work in the dark.
The Arizona State University chapter of the National Lawyer’s Guild is sponsoring a town hall meeting on the act at 6 p.m. Nov. 17 at ASU’s College of Law.