WASHINGTON - November 10 - Congressman John Conyers, Jr. issued the following statement today regarding the first meeting of conferees on the PATRIOT Act:
"It has been four years since this Congress passed the PATRIOT Act. It was a time of grief, a time of shock, and in good faith we gave law enforcement authorities the power they said they needed to track terrorists and prevent such a tragedy from happening again.
However, we now know that we must make changes to the PATRIOT Act if we are going to correct what was too much, too fast.
It was recently reported that the government has used upwards of 30,000 National Security Letters a year to gather and maintain records on innocent Americans. For those who will say there have been no abuses today, I'd like to remind them that the very act of surveiling citizens who aren't even suspected of wrongdoing is an abuse in itself. Enough is enough. Unless the government believes there have been over 100,000 terrorists in our borders over the last 4 years, we have a serious civil liberties problem.
And what do we have to show for it? About a dozen prosecutions, most only tenuously connected to al Qaeda. Was it worth it? Let me be the first to say it was not. The pendulum must now swing back and checks and balances must be reinserted into criminal and intelligence investigations.
I read with some interest and considerable alarm last evening of press accounts of a proposed agreement. I hope that is not the case because I, like most conferees, haven't seen any such document, which the press described in some detail. I can only hope that the chair will respect the months of effort we have all put into this process by assuring the Members that before a conference report is circulated for signature, they will have the opportunity to debate its contents in an additional meeting and offer amendments.
Let me offer a few observations regarding issues that are important to this Member:
* First, yesterday's unanimous House support for 4 year sunsets is an excellent start. I thank Mr. Sensenbrenner for his support of that measure and look forward to seeing that agreement is quickly incorporated and adopted by all conferees.
* Second, I hope we can continue with requiring Section 215 orders and National Security letters to have some connection to terrorists and a meaningful way for recipients to challenge them in court.
* Third, I hope we do not allow this conference report to become a Christmas tree for every member of the House and Senate to hang their pet projects on. In particular, there is no place for adding extraneous death penalties and other criminal provisions which have nothing to do with the core Patriot Act.
History is rife with leaders who were too afraid of doing the right thing and opted to do what was easy - and my friends, that will always be keeping the status quo. I ask my colleagues to stand with me and do what is right - to make sure that civil liberties are protected in this country once again.