Critics of the Patriot Act were successful this week in stopping reauthorization of its key provisions which will expire in 16 days. Real patriots support the Patriot Act, and all the accusations made by its opponents are false. Among those voting in favor of the legislation were 210 Republicans and 67 Democrats. The first person to speak on Tuesday night was Rep. Lamar Smith (R-TX), the Chairman of the House Judiciary Committee:
The Patriot Act works. It has proved effective in preventing terrorist attacks and protecting Americans. To let these provisions expire would leave every American less safe. We must continue these intelligence-gathering measures to win our fight against terrorists.
President Obama, his Director of National Intelligence, and his Attorney General all agree with us. Attorney General Holder has written to us and urged the Congress not to allow these provisions to expire. He says they are critical tools which “have been used in numerous highly sensitive intelligence collection operations.” FBI Director Robert Mueller says it is “exceptionally helpful.”
In a shameful move, 26 Republicans crossed the aisle to give liberal Democrats a major victory. The debate is not new. Democrats controlled the House for the past four years and they always refused to bring a reauthorization bill to the floor. They would only allow multiple temporary extensions.
What do terrorists have to do to convince liberals the Patriot Act is needed?
- The terrorists have already attempted to blow up skyscrapers in Texas and Illinois.
- They attempted to blow up a plane over Detroit.
- They wanted to kill commuters on New York City’s subway.
- Another bomb was set for Times Square.
- There have been over 30 planned terrorist attacks which have been stopped in the past decade. On 9/11 they succeeded.
- 26 American citizens or residents have been arrested on terrorism-related charges in the past two years.
- Yesterday Secretary of Homeland Security Janet Napolitano said the threat of terrorism is now “at its most heightened state.” She says terror groups are already inside the US, and they can attack with no warning.
Secretary Napolitano says the 30 planned attacks were thwarted thanks to the Patriot Act. The terrorists are showing no signs of ending their plots, but liberals and the libertarians want to end the laws which stop the terrorists.
Who Are The Critics?
- The Christian Science Monitor wrote “Some tea party lawmakers in the House helped to vote down Patriot Act provisions on Tuesday, out of concerns about civil liberties. Surprised, liberals applaud.”
- Dave Weigel in Slate wrote: “There is a libertarian caucus inside the GOP. It is not large enough to stop bills on simple majority votes. But it’s real. Since the middle of the aughts, there have been about a dozen Republican members of the House, and a couple of senators, willing to vote down Patriot Act extensions and other bills they view as civil liberties threats; in the Senate, they’ve just gained Rand Paul.”
- With the defeat of former Sen. Russell Feingold (D-WI) the three major critics in the Senate are Rand Paul (R-KY), Mike Lee (R-UT) and Patrick Leahy (D-VT). Rep. Ron Paul (R-TX) has been opposed to the Patriot Act since 2001 because “governments can’t make us safe. . if you want to be perfectly safe from child abuse and wife beating, the government could put a camera in every one of our houses and our bedrooms, and maybe there would be somebody made safer this way. But what would you be giving up?”
- Rep. Dennis Kucinich (D-OH) says “The 112th Congress began with a historic reading of the U.S. Constitution. Will anyone subscribe to the First and Fourth Amendments tomorrow when the Patriot Act is up for a vote? I am hopeful members of the Tea Party who came to Congress to defend the Constitution will join me in challenging its reauthorization. Many Members of Congress, including those supported by my friends in the tea party, maintain their goal is to get government out of their lives. Well, how about the Patriot Act? How about getting government out of people’s bedrooms?”
- “The fault lines within the Republican caucus have begun to emerge more quickly than anyone expected.’’- Dr. Ross Baker, Rutgers University.
- “There’s another force out there to which a lot of the Republican freshmen think they owe their election, the Tea Party. A lot of freshmen believe they have to look over their shoulder to the Tea Party on every vote.” – Dr. Stuart Rothenberg
Has The Patriot Act Been Abused?
To obtain a warrant, the government must offer specific evidence that the target is both involved in terror related activities and is trying to evade surveillance. This has nothing to do with the surveillance of innocent Americans.
Some envision a Brave New World in which Big Brother haphazardly demands individuals’ library records. That is fiction. No library records have ever been requested under this law, and no recipient of a business record order has ever challenged that order, despite the fact that there are clear legal channels available. – New York Daily News
There is no evidence to demonstrate abuse of the Patriot Act. Once again, the critics point to national security letters which existed five years before the 9/11 attack.
“In fact, at times the Patriot Act offers significantly more protections than are available under common criminal investigations. More often than not, it simply modernizes already-available tools that prosecutors have routinely used in criminal investigations well before 2001. These provisions are subject to routine oversight by both the FISA court and Congress. The act has been narrowed and refined continuously, contributing to the fact that no single provision of the Patriot Act has ever been found unconstitutional.” – The Heritage Foundation
Does it Violate Civil Liberties?
As usual, the Patriot Act critics on Tuesday night were unable site any specific abuses of the expiring provisions. So many of the charges being against the Patriot Act are laughable. The Patriot Act is not going into any ones bedroom, and it does not involve thousands of spy cameras. FEMA is not building concentration camps, and the Department of Homeland Security is not spying on Tea Party members.
As recognized in the Declaration of Independence, the first responsibility of government is to preserve the lives and liberty of the people. Within the boundaries of the Constitution, the Patriot Act has been an enormous success in stopping the people who want to kill Americans on U.S. soil.
- The critics want to abolish the Patriot Act because someday it could be abused. It certainly has not been abused during its first decade, and its reporting requirements are stringent.
- The only people who have to fear the Patriot Act are foreign terrorists, and innocent Americans are not suffering because of it. If that was the case it would not have been renew three times already.
- The FBI and the CIA Inspector Generals have to report to Congress on Patriot Act compliance. Their audits are not a whitewash and they have resulted in restrictions on national security letters which existed prior to the Patriot Act.
- A surveillance or search can be ordered only if a court finds there is probable cause to believe the target is a foreign power or an agent of a foreign power.
- Furthermore, surveillance is only ordered when the suspect engage in criminal wrongdoing which could result in death.
- Law enforcement has to show that the conduct appears to have been committed with a specified terrorist related intent. Instead of providing a single example of the Patriot Act being misused, opponents make frightening, unsubstantiated claims that the Patriot Act is a virtual roll back of the First Amendment.
Is the Patriot Act Big Government?
Many critics focus on Section 213 which is described by liberals and libertarians as “Sneak and Peak.” The critics claim “this allows for secret searches of one’s home and property without prior notice and it violates the 4th amendment.”
The truth is that it is only a delayed notification, and this provision is designed to prevent the failure of a major terrorist investigation.
Section 213 allows a judge to grant a delay if they find “reasonable cause” to believe that prior notice would result in death or physical harm to an individual, flight from prosecution, evidence tampering, witness intimidation, or other serious jeopardy to an investigation. In this case, the judge will likely allow a delay, since notice could seriously jeopardize the investigation, and would likely result in evidence tampering and witness intimidation.
Once again. the delay is temporary. The government must notify the person of the search “within a reasonable period.”
Section 213 is not a new legal power. For decades, federal courts have allowed investigators to delay notice of a search in drug cases, organized crime, and child pornography, for similar reasons.
“There has been some criticism today regarding section 215. Critics believe it gives national security agencies too much access to confidential records. The requirements for section 215 are more strict requirements than grand jury subpoenas used in criminal investigations.
Unlike a grand jury subpoena, which is not issued by a judge, a 215 order can only be used by a FISA court judge. Section 215 only grants terrorism investigators the power to get records held by third parties, such as a hotel or car rental records.” – Rep. Lamar Smith (R-TX), Chairman, House Judiciary Committee
What About the Fourth Amendment?
There has been criticism that section 215 violates Fourth Amendment protections against unreasonable searches and seizures. However, a request for business records held by a third party is not a search under the Fourth Amendment. The target of an investigation does not own the records and therefore has no reasonable expectation of privacy in them. Section 215 cannot be used to acquire records of U.S. persons based solely on First Amendment protected activity. – Rep. James Sensenbrenner (R-WI), former Chairman, House Judiciary Committee.
Why is There No Oversight of the Patriot Act?
Now, we hear an awful lot about no oversight. The people on the other side of the aisle who are complaining about this had the authority to have oversight hearings. There was only one of them in the last Congress. Compare that to the nine subcommittee hearings, three full committee hearings, and the full markup that we had in 2006 when this side of the aisle had the majority.
The people who have been doing the oversight have been the Republicans, not the Democrats. The people who know this law is making Americans safer are Republicans, and the Democrats once again are complaining.- Rep. James Sensenbrenner (R-WI), former Chairman, House Judiciary Committee.
What About National Security Letters?
The ACLU, Moveon.org and the Libertarians are pointing to national security letters to show abuses of the Patriot Act.
They are blaming the Patriot Act for policies advocated by its critics. National security letters were first authorized by legislation sponsored by Sen. Patrick Leahy (D-VT) in 1986, well before the Patriot Act. He is a major critic of the Patriot Act.
Now the Senator is calling for limits on the FBI’s use of national security letters. National security letters are issued without a court order, and they require businesses to turn over client information such as telephone records and e-mail logs, but they may not be used to obtain the content of these communications.
The recipients of a national security letters have the right to obtain judicial review. Even the liberal Washington Post supports national security letters.
Are Terror Watch and No Fly Lists Being Abused?
Only individuals who are known or reasonably suspected to be engaged in terrorism are included on the Terror Watch and No Fly Lists. As of 2010, 400,000 people are on the Terror Watch List and 97% of them are not American citizens. The vast majority of them do not live in the United States.
The no fly list has about 2,500 names and less than 10% of them are Americans. The claims that famous people such as Ted Kennedy, Catherine Stevens and Lady GaGa are on the no fly list are false. These lists keep legitimate terror threats off of airplanes, and it would be irresponsible of the government not to use this information.
What is the Lone Wolf Provision?
Congress needs to make permanent the lone wolf definition, which applies to non U.S. citizens. More than ever, we are confronted with threats from individuals who may subscribe to certain beliefs but do not belong to specific terrorist group. Without the lone wolf definition, our surveillance tools will be powerless to act against this growing threat.
This provision closes the gap in the FISA act and, if allowed to expire, could permit an individual terrorist to slip through the cracks and carry out his plot undetected. When FISA was originally enacted in 1978, terrorists were believed to be members of an identified group. That’s not the case today. – Rep. James Sensenbrenner (R-WI), former Chairman, House Judiciary Committee.