Conference Report on H.R. 3199, USA Patriot Improvement and Reauthorization Act of 2005

By:  Ed Markey
Date: Dec. 14, 2005
Location: Washington, DC


CONFERENCE REPORT ON H.R. 3199, USA PATRIOT IMPROVEMENT AND REAUTHORIZATION ACT OF 2005 -- (House of Representatives - December 14, 2005)

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Mr. MARKEY. Madam Speaker, I rise in strong opposition to the conference report on the USA PATRIOT reauthorization Act.

As a member of the Homeland Security Committee since its creation almost 3 years ago, I understand the importance of providing our Nation's counter-terror and law enforcement officers with the capabilities to act aggressively to detect and deter terrorist attacks. As Co-Chairman of the Congressional Privacy Caucus, I remain concerned about government encroachments into the private lives of innocent Americans, which can undermine the principles of liberty, freedom of association and protection from unjust searches and seizures that have been embedded in our Constitution and culture.

Clearly, the interests of security and privacy must be balanced. Unfortunately, this conference report does not strike the appropriate balance, and I cannot support it.

The conference report fails to include essential privacy protections that had been included in the Senate version of this legislation. Specifically, the Senate-passed bill contained key safeguards not included in the conference report regarding the PATRIOT Act's use of so-called ``National Security Letters'' and ``business and library records''.

Madam Speaker, as you know, National Security Letters are, in effect, a form of secret administrative subpoena. They are issued by Federal authorities, most often the FBI, without any court supervision, and recipients are prohibited from telling anyone that they have been served. These letters represent a counter-terror tool that must be carefully and judiciously used, provided their secretive nature outside the traditional judicial process. Unlike the Senate-passed bill, however, the conference report does not provide meaningful judicial review of a National Security Letter's gag order. The conference report requires a court to accept as conclusive the government's assertion that a gag order should not be lifted, unless the court determines the government is acting in bad faith. Despite strong opposition to this provision, House Republicans refused to strip it out of the conference report. House Republicans also refused, as an alternative, to impose a sunset on National Security Letter authorities. Such a sunset provision would have ensured closer oversight of, and public accountability for, the use of National Security Letters.

The conference report eliminated key protections in the Senate-passed bill regarding the ``business and library records'' provisions. Under the conference report, the government can compel the production of business and library records merely upon the showing that the records are ``relevant'' to a terrorism investigation. By contrast, the Senate-passed bill required the government to show that the records have some connection to a suspected terrorist or spy. This is a commonsense protection that would not restrict government capabilities, but would prevent government overreaching and fishing expeditions.

The House-Senate conference committee had an opportunity to adjust the PATRIOT Act's expiring provisions to protect the rights and liberties of all Americans more effectively. Regrettably, this opportunity was lost and the conference report we are considering today does not contain key privacy protections that had been included in the Senate-passed bill.

I urge my colleagues to vote ``no'' on this conference report and support the Democratic substitute offered by Ranking Member Conyers, which strikes the proper balance between security and privacy.

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