SAN FRANCISCO (CN) – The 9th Circuit ruled that certain portions of the U.S. Patriot Act dealing with foreign terrorist organizations are unconstitutionally vague.
The ruling affirms a 2005 decision by U.S. District Judge Audrey Collins, who found that the Antiterrorism and Effective Death Penalty Act and its amendment, the Intelligence Reform and Terrorism Prevention Act, contained the impermissibly vague terms “training,” “service” and “expert advice or assistance.”
The Act makes it a crime to help groups that the United States considers terrorist organizations. Humanitarian groups argued that, unless the law clarifies its language, anyone providing assistance to so-called terrorist groups could face up to 15 years in prison.
Plaintiffs said they provided support to only the nonviolent and legal activities of rebel groups in Turkey and Sri Lanka, but stopped out of fear of prosecution. They had been supporting the Kurdistan Workers Party and the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam, which were deemed terrorist organizations in 1997.
Though some of the Act’s terms are vague, the district court said the law does not impose “guilt by association alone.”
The circuit affirmed, saying some terms are still unclear to “the average person with no background in law.” See ruling.