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Public Statements

Patriot Act

By:
Date:
Location: Washington DC

PATRIOT ACT

Mr. McCONNELL. Mr. President, in October of 2001, the Senate passed the PATRIOT Act by a near unanimous vote of 98 to 1. The PATRIOT Act has been a vital tool in our ongoing efforts to prevent future attacks of terrorism against Americans at home. Terrorist cells across the country have been broken up from Buffalo, to Detroit, to Seattle, to Portland. Over 300 criminal charges have been brought. Over 515 individuals linked to the 9/11 investigation have been deported. Hundreds more suspected terrorists have been identified and tracked throughout our country. It is no wonder, then, that the biggest hero to emerge from the hearings before the 9/11 Commission has been the PATRIOT Act. Witnesses from both the Clinton and Bush administrations, and from both political parties, have praised its efficacy in fighting the war on terror.

Unfortunately, we are in the middle of an election year and some Washington politicians would rather demagog the PATRIOT Act and the Attorney General for his use of it. For example, the junior Senator from Massachusetts voted for the act. But since becoming his party's presumptive nominee, he has taken an entirely different tack. For example, last month, he said: It is time to end the era of John Ashcroft. That starts with replacing the PATRIOT Act with a new law that protects our people and our liberties at the same time.

It is quite puzzling how Senator Kerry and his Democratic colleagues who voted for the PATRIOT Act can now do an about-face and raise such serious questions about its effects on civil liberties. It is even more puzzling to make such charges in light of how instrumental the PATRIOT Act has been in safeguarding Americans, and in the absence of evidence that the PATRIOT Act is being misused.

Sixteen key provisions of the act will expire on December 31 of next year. It is crucial that law enforcement not be deprived of these tools. While I cannot prevent election year politics, I can try to disabuse my colleagues of erroneous assumptions about some of these provisions.

Let's take a look at section 201 of the act. That section allows law enforcement to use existing electronic surveillance authorities to investigate certain crimes that terrorists are likely to commit.

Now, the myth about section 201 is as follows: Some contend that the Government already has the authority to investigate cases of suspected terrorism and, therefore, section 201 is completely overkill. But the fact is, before section 201 of the PATRIOT Act, law enforcement had the authority to conduct some electronic surveillance when investigating ordinary nonterrorism crimes. But law enforcement could not use wiretaps to investigate all of the crimes that terrorists will commit.

Now, as an illustration of this odd dichotomy, law enforcement could use wiretaps to investigate mail fraud but not for chemical weapons offenses or cases involving the use of a dirty bomb or cases involving killing Americans abroad or cases of terrorism financing. Let's go over that one more time. Law enforcement could use wiretaps to investigate mail fraud but not for chemical weapons offenses or offenses related to dirty bombs, killing Americans overseas, or terrorism financing. That is an absurd position for the law to be in.

So it seems to me that if law enforcement can use a wiretap to bust up a failed mail-in sweepstakes ring, it should be able to use wiretaps to stop the use of a dirty bomb.

Let's make one final point about section 201. To obtain a wiretap under this section, all the preexisting safeguards for wiretaps must be complied with, including establishing probable cause before an impartial Federal judge and getting that judge to sign off on the use of a wiretap.

Another section that has been misunderstood is section 206. This provision allows roving wiretaps in national security investigations. But it only allows them when the FISA court finds that a suspect may thwart surveillance. In a roving wiretap, the tap attaches to a suspect rather than to a device so that the suspect cannot defeat surveillance simply by changing cell phones, for example. The myth is that section 206 is a broad expansion of power without privacy protections.

But the facts are that those assertions are incorrect. For over a quarter of a century, law enforcement has used roving wiretaps to solve ordinary crimes such as drug offenses. How can that be terribly expansive, to allow in national security matters what has been occurring in ordinary criminal matters for 25 years?

Second, as I said, a roving wiretap can only be obtained after a court finds that a suspect might thwart surveillance. A number of courts, including at least three circuit courts, have ruled that roving wiretaps are perfectly consistent-perfectly consistent-with the fourth amendment. So it is pretty clear that privacy protections are not being eviscerated.

In sum, we should renew the parts of the PATRIOT Act that will expire. We should not take away from law enforcement needed weapons in the war against terrorism.

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