Cites Several Hundred Instances in Floor Debate Today over Act's Renewal
Supports Most Provisions, But Concerned about 'Protecting Civil Liberties While Fighting Terrorism'
By Brad Friedman on 7/21/2005, 1:53pm PT  

Earlier today, Larisa Alexandrovna of RAW STORY reported on the 70-page position paper released by House Judiciary Democrats outlining their disenting view on the renewal of the PATRIOT Act as now being debated on the House floor.

In a statement obtained by The BRAD BLOG for today's debate, Rep. John Conyers (D-MI), the ranking member of the U.S. House Judiciary Committee, called several of the PATRIOT Act provisions --- 16 of which are now up for renewal --- into question, cited hundreds of instances of "abuse" and outlined those provisions which he viewed as the most significant threat to our civil liberties.

Citing evidence of "a few provisions that are subject to abuse, and need greater checks and balances," Conyers outlined three of the provisions specifically of concern during debate today of "HR 3199 USA Patriot and Terrorism Prevention Reauthorization Act of 2005"

Amongst those which Conyers' expressed concerned about is Section 215 which allows for the FBI to obtain any record "relevant" to an investigation, including library books and medical records. Conyers said that targets are not allowed to tell anyone --- even their own attorneys --- about such records requests. The provision has been "abused," said Conyers', citing reports from the American Library Association alone of some 200 such requests since September 11.

Another concern is Section 505 which allows the FBI "to obtain financial, telephone, internet and other consumer records" without requiring prior judicial approval. Though this provision has been found unconstitional by Federal Courts, the Bush Administration continues to use it, according to Conyers.

Conyers also cites the provision which allows so-called "sneak and peek" searches in homes, cars and business, even when there is no emergency. The provision --- which Conyers' says was not in the version of the PATRIOT Act that came out of Judiciary Committee conference but was added by the Administration "in the middle of the night" --- has been "subject to wide spread abuse." The provision, the statement says, has been used more than 240 times...Moreover, only 10% of these uses have had anything to do with terrorism, the purported justification of the PATRIOT Act."

Conyers also calls for renewed "sunsets" to the current PATRIOT provisions, rather than making them permanent as the Bush Administration has called for.

The BRAD BLOG has obtained Conyers' statement which follows in full [emphasis from the original document as obtained via Conyers' office]...

Statement of Rep. John Conyers, Jr.
PATRIOT Act Reauthorization

Let me say at the outset that every member of the House wants to make sure that law enforcement officials have the tools they need to protect the American people from terrorism. I also know that every member of this Body wants to make sure that we protect our civil liberties and freedoms as we fight the terrorists.

I support the vast majority of the 166 provisions of the Patriot Act. In fact, after September 11, I helped write many of them in a version of the bill that passed the Judiciary Committee 36 to 0. I did this because I believe that as technology changes, our laws need to keep up with it. I believe our law enforcement officials need to be able to talk with one another and connect the dots to prevent terrorist attacks.

This debate isn't really about the Patriot Act, or even most of the 16 provisions scheduled to sunset this year. It is about a few provisions that are subject to abuse, and need greater checks and balances. Let me suggest four areas where changes are badly needed.

First, Section 215, concerning Business Records allows the FBI to obtain any record considered “relevant” to an investigation. This includes library books, and book store and medical records. The provision has been difficult to oversee, since targets of FBI investigations are not permitted to tell anyone about it, even their lawyer. However, based on what we have learned, section 215 has been abused, as the American Library Association has reported that more than 200 requests for library records have been made since September 11.

Second, Section 505, concerning National Security Letters allows the FBI to obtain financial, telephone, internet and other consumer records “relevant” to any intelligence investigation without judicial approval. Like section 215, recipients are gagged from ever telling anyone they received the request. A federal district court struck down this provision as unconstitutional, but the Administration keeps using it.

Third, under section 213, the government can “sneak and peek” in your business, your car and your home – even if there's no emergency. This section was not in the bill reported by the Judiciary Committee, and was slipped in by the Administration in the middle of the night. This provision has also been subject to widespread abuse --- it has been used more than 240 times, with the longest delay being for 406 days. Moreover, only 10% of these uses have had anything to do with terrorism, the purported justification of the PATRIOT Act.

Finally, it is clear to me that we need to have additional sunsets in this legislation. We learned over the last four years that the only thing that made the Administration grant us any information or oversight on the use of these new powers was the sunset provisions. We also learned of abuses during our oversight is leading us to make modifications. Given this history, it simply makes no sense to make these provisions permanent or near permanent.

The lessons of September 11 are that if we allow law enforcement to do their work free of political interference, if we give them adequate resources and modern technologies, we can protect our citizens without intruding on our liberties. We all want to fight terrorism, but we need to fight it the right way, consistent with our constitution, and in a manner that serves as a model for the rest of the world.

I believe the committee-passed legislation does not meet that test, and as such, does not warrant passage today.