Mr. President, four years ago, following one of
the most devastating attacks in our nation's history, Congress passed
the USA PATRIOT Act to give our nation's law enforcement the tools
they needed 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 agreed that we needed legislation to make
it harder for suspected terrorists to go undetected in this country.
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 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
Now, at times this issue has tended to degenerate
into an "either-or" type of 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.
Fortunately, last year, the Senate recognized that
this was a false choice. We put patriotism before partisanship and
engaged in a real, open, and substantive debate about how to fix
the PATRIOT Act. And Republicans and Democrats came together to
propose sensible improvements to the Act. Unfortunately, the House
was resistant to these changes, and that's why we're voting on the
compromise before us.
Let me be clear: this compromise is not as good
as the Senate version of the bill, nor is it as good as the SAFE
Act that I have cosponsored. I suspect the vast majority of my colleagues
on both sides of the aisle feel the same way. But, it's still better
than what the House originally proposed.
This compromise does modestly improve the PATRIOT
Act by strengthening civil liberties protections without sacrificing
the tools that law enforcement needs to keep us safe. In this compromise:
We strengthened judicial review of both National
Security Letters, the administrative subpoenas used by the FBI,
and Section 215 orders, which can be used to obtain medical, financial
and other personal records.
We established hard time limits on sneak-and-peak
searches and limits on roving wiretaps.
We protected most libraries from being subject to
National Security Letters.
We preserved an individual's right to seek counsel
and hire an attorney without fearing the FBI's wrath.
And we allowed judicial review of the gag orders
that accompany Section 215 searches.
The compromise is far from perfect. I would have
liked to see stronger judicial review of National Security Letters
and shorter time limits on sneak and peak searches, among other
Sen. Feingold has proposed several sensible amendments
- that I support - to address these issues. Unfortunately, the Majority
Leader is preventing Sen. Feingold from offering these amendments
through procedural tactics. That is regrettable because it flies
in the face of the bipartisan cooperation that allowed the Senate
to pass unanimously its version of the Patriot Act - a version that
balanced security and civil liberties, partisanship and patriotism.
The Majority Leader's tactics are even more troubling
because we will need to work on a bipartisan basis to address national
security challenges in the weeks and months to come. In particular,
members on both sides of the aisle will need to take a careful look
at President Bush's use of warrantless wiretaps and determine the
right balance between protecting our security and safeguarding our
civil liberties. This is a complex issue. But only by working together
and avoiding election-year politicking will we be able to give our
government the necessary tools to wage the war on terror without
sacrificing the rule of law.
So, I will be supporting the Patriot Act compromise.
But I urge my colleagues to continue working on ways to improve
the civil liberties protections in the Patriot Act after it is reauthorized.
I thank the chair and yield the floor.