ACLU to Reid: Not so fast on that gun-control bill

So far, the media has portrayed concerns over civil rights in the Senate’s new gun-control push to be a paranoia among conservatives, and/or an artifact of fear-mongering by the NRA and gun manufacturers.  The Daily Caller provides something of a game-changer for the debate, if other media bother to report it. The ACLU — hardly a shill for conservative thought and corporate lobbying — tells Vince Coglianese in an exclusive interview that they have their own concerns over infringements on civil rights:

In an exclusive interview with The Daily Caller, a top lobbyist for the ACLU announced that the group thinks Reid’s current gun bill could threaten both privacy rights and civil liberties.

The inclusion of universal background checks — the poll-tested lynchpin of most Democratic proposals — “raises two significant concerns,” the ACLU’s Chris Calabrese told TheDC Wednesday.

The ACLU doesn’t oppose background checks, or even universal background checks. However, they do oppose the building of government databases on private citizens not accused of any crimes, which this bill could end up creating.  While it doesn’t include universal registration, it also does not include any of the protections afforded gun buyers in existing background-check law:

“However, we also believe those checks have to be conducted in a way that protects privacy and civil liberties. So, in that regard, we think the current legislation, the current proposal on universal background checks raises two significant concerns,” he went on.

“The first is that it treats the records for private purchases very differently than purchases made through licensed sellers. Under existing law, most information regarding an approved purchase is destroyed within 24 hours when a licensed seller does a [National Instant Criminal Background Check System] check now,” Calabrese said, “and almost all of it is destroyed within 90 days.” …

But Calabrese says that Reid’s legislation fails to include those “privacy best practices.”

“Contrast this with what the existing [Reid] legislation says, which is simply that a record has to be kept of a private transfer,” Calabrese highlighted, “and it doesn’t have any of the protections that we have in current law for existing licensees.”

“We think that that kind of record-keeping requirement could result in keeping long-term detailed records of purchases and creation of a new government database.”

“And they come to use databases for all sorts of different purposes,” Calabrese said. “For example, the National Counterterrorism Center recently gave itself the authority to collect all kinds of existing federal databases and performed terrorism related searches regarding those databases. They essentially exempted themselves from a lot of existing Privacy Act protections.”

“So you just worry that you’re going to see searches of the databases and an expansion for purposes that were not intended when the information was collected.”

So, it’s not just paranoia from conservatives or the NRA behind opposition to the proposals for expanded background checks. It’s actually a rational concern over civil liberties, plus a legislative process that is either incompetently or maliciously undermining the existing protections in background-check law.  Given the nature of the effort and the demagogic and dishonest campaign behind it, it’s pretty easy to assume the latter rather than the former.  Either way, it’s bad news.

On occasion, I’ve criticized the ACLU for not defending the Second Amendment in its activism in courts and in politics.  That’s not exactly what they’re doing here, of course; they’re more concerned about the Fourth and Fifth Amendment implications of the Senate’s gun-control bill than in the explicit individual right to bear arms.  Still, give them kudos for speaking up at all; we’ll see how long they’ll commit to fighting Democrats to protect the privacy of gun owners.

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