CONFERENCE REPORT ON H.R. 3199, USA PATRIOT IMPROVEMENT AND REAUTHORIZATION ACT OF 2005 -- (House of Representatives - December 14, 2005)
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Ms. PELOSI. Madam Speaker, I thank the gentleman for yielding, and thank you, Mr. Conyers, our ranking member on the Judiciary Committee, for being such an outstanding leader in protecting our civil liberties and also the national security of our country. I also extend that to the Democrats on the committee.
First, let us be clear about what we are voting on today, Madam Speaker. We are not voting for the reauthorization of the PATRIOT Act in general. More than 90 percent of the PATRIOT Act is permanent law and includes many noncontroversial provisions that give law enforcement the tools they need. What is before us on the floor today is the extension of certain provisions which are controversial and have the potential for abuse.
Madam Speaker, all of us support providing law enforcement officers with the tools they need to combat terrorism. In doing so, we must also preserve the balance between security and civil liberties and to recognize that not all of the tools law enforcement officers want are tools that they legitimately need.
I cannot support the PATRIOT Act extension conference report because it does not secure the right balance between security and liberty. Our Founding Fathers knew well the importance of the balance between security and liberty. They led a revolution to secure liberty against an arbitrary power. They knew that you cannot have security without liberty and liberty without security in a democracy.
As we consider this conference report, I ask every Member of Congress, indeed, every American, do you know if a National Security Letter has been issued about you, a letter to your phone company, your Internet provider, your bank, for wholesale collection of records that may include your personal information? This letter does not even have to specify that the specific records sought are connected to terrorism, and the recipients, you do not know if such a letter has been issued. You cannot know. You will never know.
This is the same for every American, and any information, including your most sensitive personal data, along with that of thousands of American citizens gathered by these National Security Letter requests, will be held in perpetuity by law enforcement.
The recipients, the bank, the phone company, the Internet provider, are not allowed to tell anyone they have received this letter about you. These are searches without any warrant and without any judicial supervision.
Just think of it: You do not know, the recipient of the letter who is in possession of your information cannot tell you. You do not know, so you cannot challenge it, and the letter can be sent without demonstrating any relationship between the specific records sought and a connection to terrorism. This is a massive invasion of the privacy of the American people.
This is not just some idle threat. The Washington Post reported last month that the FBI hands out more than 30,000 National Security Letters per year, a reported hundredfold increase over historic norms.
How did this happen? When originally enacted, the PATRIOT Act was intended to be accompanied by Congressional oversight so that the implementation did not violate our civil liberties. Unfortunately, the Bush administration and the Republican Congress have been delinquent in the oversight of the PATRIOT Act. As we have seen with this massive and unprecedented scope of National Security Letters, the implications of the Republican failure of oversight are glaring and have a direct impact on every American. It is long past time for Congress to have real oversight.
This conference has missed an opportunity to address the revelation of the widespread use of National Security Letters. We must have standards that clarify that there must be a connection to terrorism or to a suspected spy.
Section 505 that covers the National Security Letters must now include a sunset. That is why I strongly support the request of Mr. Conyers for a 3-month extension so that conferees can reconvene, adopt the Senate bill, fix the National Security Letters and get it right. Our democracy requires no less.
Another part of this legislation that requires the government to show some connection between the records sought is under the library provision and an individual suspected of being a terrorist or spy. Such a standard is needed to assure that fishing expeditions do not take place. Yet this standard is missing from the Republican conference report.
The list of failures goes on. That is why I think it is important that we support the motion to recommit to adopt the Senate bill. If not that, then to follow Mr. Conyers' lead and take 3 months to do this right. Nothing less is at stake than the privacy, the civil liberties, really the essence of our democracy.
We must always remember as we protect and defend the American people, we must honor the oath of office we take here when we are sworn in to protect and defend the Constitution and the civil liberties that it contains. We have an obligation to do that for the American people.
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