WASHINGTON - November 18 - I am proud to join my colleagues from the Senate and the House, Republicans and Democrats, in calling on the members of the USA PATRIOT Act conference committee to give us a bill that we can support – a bill that makes reasonable changes to the Patriot Act to safeguard Americans’ civil liberties. In other words, a bill like the one the Senate passed by unanimous consent in July.
Two days ago, the conventional wisdom was that we had lost the battle to fix the Patriot Act, that there was no way we could stop a bad conference report from becoming law. And now look. The momentum has definitely shifted. It shifted because we banded together and spoke out strongly. All of us are here today to continue that effort, because we agree that the conference committee must come back with a better bill, because people from all over the political spectrum believe that we can both fight terrorism and remain true to our values. And there are many more like us in both the House and the Senate.
The conference committee is on notice, we will fight this conference report if it does not make significant improvements to the Patriot Act like those we asked for in our letter, on Section 215, on National Security Letters, on sunsets, on “sneak and peek” search warrants. A conference report that falls short will not be smoothly or quickly adopted. In fact, if we have our way, it will not be adopted at all.
That doesn’t mean that the Patriot Act will expire. None of us want that. The President can sign Patriot Act reauthorization into law tomorrow if the House will just take up and pass the Senate bill.
Let me mention specifically some of the provisions of the Senate bill that create new safeguards for the most controversial PATRIOT Act powers and that should be retained. The bill addresses some of the same problems that I first raised in the fall of 2001 as the reasons why I believed the PATRIOT Act was flawed and threatened fundamental constitutional protections.
With respect to Section 215 of the Patriot Act, the so-called “library” provision that can be used to obtain library, medical and other sensitive business records, the Senate bill would require the government to convince a judge that a person is connected to terrorism or espionage before obtaining those records. The bill would also require the government in most circumstances to notify the target of a “sneak and peek” search warrant within seven days of the search, instead of the undefined delay that is currently permitted by the Patriot Act. It would impose new four-year sunsets on three of the most troublesome provisions, and provide recipients of intrusive business records orders and National Security Letters with the explicit right to challenge them in court.
These are important protections, but they are also modest and reasonable limitations on the government’s power. It is past time for Congress to adopt them. The American people have been calling for a new look at the Patriot Act for four long years. It’s time to get the job done right.