Four years ago, following the most devastating
attack in our history, this body passed the USA PATRIOT Act in order
to give our nation's law enforcement the tools they need to track
down terrorists who plot and lurk within our own borders and all
over the world - terrorists who, right now, are looking to exploit
weaknesses in our laws and our security to carry out even deadlier
attacks than we saw on September 11th.
We all agree that we needed legislation to make
it harder for suspected terrorists to go undetected in this country.
And we all agree we needed to make it harder for them to organize
and strategize and get flight licenses and sneak across our borders.
Americans everywhere wanted that.
But soon after the PATRIOT Act passed, a few years
before I ever arrived in the Senate, I began hearing concerns from
people of every background and political leaning that this law -
the very purpose of which was to protect us - was also threatening
to violate our rights and freedoms as Americans. That it didn't
just provide law enforcement the powers it needed to keep us safe,
but powers it didn't need to invade our privacy without cause or
In Washington, this issue has tended degenerate
into an "either-or" type debate. Either we protect our
people from terror or we protect our most cherished principles.
But that is a false choice. It asks too little of us and assumes
too little about America.
That's why as it's come time to reauthorize this
law, we've been working in a bipartisan way to do both - to show
the American people that we can track down terrorists without trampling
on our civil liberties. To show the American people that the federal
government will only issue warrants and execute searches because
it needs to, not because it can. What we have been trying to achieve,
under the leadership of a bipartisan group of Senators, is some
accountability in this process - to get answers and see evidence
where there is suspicion.
Several weeks ago, this work bore fruit. The Judiciary
Committee and the U.S. Senate managed to pass a piece of bi-partisan
legislation that, while I can't say is perfect, was able to address
many of these most serious problems in the existing law.
Unfortunately, that strong bi-partisan legislation
has been tossed aside in Conference. Instead, we have been forced
to consider a piece of rushed legislation that fails to address
the concerns of members of both parties as well as the American
This is legislation that puts our own Justice Department
above the law. When National Security Letters are issued, they allow
federal agents to conduct any search on any American, no matter
how extensive or wide-ranging, without ever going before a judge
to prove that the search is necessary. They simply need sign-off
from a local FBI official. That's all.
Once a business or a person receives notification
that they will be searched, they are prohibited from telling anyone
about it, and they are even prohibited from challenging this automatic
gag order in court. Even though judges have already found that similar
restrictions violate the First Amendment - this Conference Report
disregards the case law and the right to challenge the gag order.
If you do decide to consult an attorney for legal
advice - you have to tell the FBI that you have done so. This is
unheard of - there is no such requirement in any other area of law,
and I don't see why it is justified here.
And if someone wants to know why their own government
has decided to go on a fishing expedition through every personal
record or private document - through library books they've read
and phone calls they've made - this legislation gives people no
rights to appeal the need for such a search in a court of law. No
judge will hear their plea, no jury will hear their case.
This is just plain wrong.
Giving law enforcement the tools they need to investigate
suspicious activity is one thing - and it's the right thing - but
doing it without any real oversight seriously jeopardizes the rights
of all Americans and the ideals America stands for.
Supporters of this Conference Report have argued
that we should just hold our noses and support the legislation,
because it's not going to get any better. That does not convince
me that I should support this report. I believe we owe it to the
nation to do whatever we can to make this legislation better. We
don't have to settle for a PATRIOT Act that sacrifices our liberties
or our safety - we can have one that secures both.
There have been proposals on both sides of Congress,
from both parties, to extend the PATRIOT Act for three months so
that we can reach agreement on this bill. I support those efforts
and will oppose cloture on this unacceptable Conference Report.