Search Form
First, enter a politician or zip code
Now, choose a category

Public Statements

USA PATRIOT and Terrorism Prevention Reauthorization Act of 2005

Location: Washington, DC



The House in Committee of the Whole House on the State of the Union had under consideration the bill (H.R. 3199) to extend and modify authorities needed to combat terrorism, and for other purposes:

* Mr. UDALL of Colorado. Mr. Chairman, four years ago I voted against the bill that became the ``USA PATRIOT Act,'' more commonly called simply the ``PATRIOT Act.''

* I agreed that our law-enforcement agencies needed increased power and more tools to fight terrorists. But I also thought then--and still think today--it was imperative for Congress to proceed carefully in order to protect Americans' civil liberties.

* I take very seriously my duty to preserve and protect our Constitution. For me, this is a matter of conscience--and four years ago I concluded that I could not fulfill my duty and also vote for the legislation.

* However, I took some comfort from the fact that a number of the most troublesome provisions of the new law were temporary and would expire unless Congress acted to renew them.

* And the imminent expiration of those provisions is the reason this bill is before us today.

* I think the value of such ``sunset'' provisions is shown by the debate we are having today. It is evidence that requiring Congressional action to renew agencies' authorities can and does result in ongoing Congressional oversight and periodic reconsideration.

* Unfortunately, the bill before us today does not fully follow the good example of our procedure 4 years ago. Instead, the bill would make permanent no fewer than 14 of the 16 provisions of the original ``PATRIOT Act'' that were covered by the law's ``sunset'' clause--as well as other new authorities provided by last year's bill to reform the intelligence community--and under the bill the other two will not ``sunset'' for a full 10 years.

* That is one of the main reasons I will vote against this bill. But it is not the only reason.

* Neither the expiring provisions nor the other sections of the ``PATRIOT Act'' are limited to cases involving terrorism. This makes even more troubling their potential for abuse or misuse in ways that intrude on Americans' privacy and civil liberties.

* Because of that potential, over the last four years more than 300 communities and seven States, including Colorado--governments representing over 62 million people--have passed resolutions opposing parts of the ``PATRIOT Act.''

* Much of that public concern--a concern I share--has focused on the possible effects on the privacy of patrons and customers from the application of section 215 of the ``PATRIOT Act'' to libraries and bookstores.

* Section 215 expanded the FBI's ability to obtain ``any tangible thing'' under the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act. Previously, the government could obtain records only from hotels/motels, storage facilities and car rental companies, and only if the records pertained to agents of a foreign power.' Now, it can seek ``any tangible thing'' from anyone at all as long as the information is relevant to an investigation.

* Many of us think this is so broad that the government could investigate consumers' reading and Internet habits and private records (such as credit card information, medical records, and employment histories), without the requirement of relevance to any criminal activity that applies in grand jury investigations.

* I would like to think that this authority will not be abused. But we cannot be sure that will never occur, and I think there are reasons to worry.

* I understand, for example, that the American Library Association has confirmed that Federal agents went into a library and asked for a list of everyone who checked out a book on Osama bin Laden--which likely would include people who wanted to learn about his connection to the terrorist attacks on New York and Washington--and that overall, since those attacks libraries have received more than 200 formal and informal requests for materials, including 49 requests from federal officers.

* It is not clear what authority (if any) was cited by the federal officers for obtaining this information--and, because recipients of orders issued under section 215 not only have no effective way of challenging them but in fact are prohibited from disclosing to anyone but their attorneys that they received such an order, there is no way of knowing how often this authority has been used.

* So, I remain concerned about the possibility that the ``PATRIOT Act'' would be used to obtain very private information--whether library records, medical information, or gun purchase records--without an adequate showing of a connection to terrorism.

* It is true that this bill would make some worthwhile changes to current law, including allowing the recipient of a Section 215 order to challenge it before a three-judge panel of the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court, FISC, in Washington, DC, and assert that the law was wrongly applied.

* But I think we ought to have at least had the opportunity to debate more substantial reform to this part of the law.

* To begin with, we should have been able to at least consider a limited exemption for bookstores and libraries, along the lines of the bipartisan amendment that the House voted to add to the Justice Department appropriations bill for fiscal 2006. However, the Republican leadership blocked that amendment from even being offered.

* Further, I think consideration should be given to changing the standard for issuing a section 215 order, to require some individual suspicion that the records the government wants are related to a spy, terrorist or other foreign agent--which could include the records of other parties if they were clearly relevant to the activities of the subject under investigation. Again, no amendment along those lines was allowed consideration.

* It is true that the House did have the opportunity to consider a number of worthwhile amendments. I was glad to have the chance to vote for them, and am glad that so many were adopted. However, we should have had the chance to consider many more.

* For example, the House ought to have had the chance to at least debate changes such as some proposed in the Intelligence and Judiciary Committees. I have in mind the amendment to ``sunset'' the so-called ``lone wolf' provision, approved by the Intelligence Committee and an amendment offered in the Judiciary Committee to restore a requirement for reporting on the disclosure of electronic communications that was included in the bill approved by the Judiciary Committee in 2001 but later stripped by the Rules Committee without explanation.

* Unfortunately, the Republican leadership did not allow any of these amendments to even be debated on the House floor, although it did allow time for a new amendment--not considered in committee, as far as I can tell--that would, among other things, change the rules for jury trials in many federal criminal trials, evidently including some not related to terrorism.

* And so, Mr. Chairman, my reaction to the bill now before the House is similar to the one I had to the original ``Patriot Act'' legislation four years ago.

* As I did then, I strongly support combating terrorism, here at home as well as abroad.

* But I continue to think that it is essential that we remember and respect the Constitutional rights of law-abiding Americans as we wage war against those who would destroy both our Constitution and our country. In fact, I think that if we don't do that we will lose much of what we are seeking to defend.

* And, now as then, I have concluded that for the reasons I have mentioned this bill as it stands--especially after rejection of the proposal to shorten the extension of expiring provisions--does not strike the right balance, and should not become law in its present form.

* But, now as four years ago, I am hopeful that the bill will be further improved as the legislative process continues.

* Four years ago, that did not happen. However, I think there is good reason to think that this time history will not repeat itself.

* There evidently is considerable support in the other body--by Senators on both sides of the aisle--for provisions that would improve on this legislation. I hope and expect that the Senate will make such improvements and that in the end the result will be a measure that deserves the support of all Members of Congress.

Skip to top

Help us stay free for all your Fellow Americans

Just $5 from everyone reading this would do it.

Back to top