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Deficit Reduction Act of 2005--Conference Report

Location: Washington, DC




Ms. STABENOW. Mr. President, I rise today to discuss the PATRIOT Act reauthorization. Our Nation's Founding Fathers could never have foreseen the kinds of threats we face today from America's enemies, nor could they have imagined the technologies we use to anticipate attacks on our country and to prevent them with cell phones, computers, electronic bank reports, and other kinds of efforts. But they did foresee the threats of unchecked Government power on the civil liberties of each of us as Americans.

The fourth amendment was adopted as a protection against the widespread invasions of privacy experienced by American colonists at the hands of the British Government. That is part of our history. That is why this debate is so important. That is why we are standing in this Chamber, just 11 days before the PATRIOT Act expires, to debate this reauthorization. And that is why my colleagues and I on both sides of the aisle are fighting to extend the current PATRIOT Act for 3 months while we work to get agreement on the right balance between our security and our right to privacy and due process.

I want to particularly say congratulations and lend my admiration to the Senator currently occupying the Chair in this Chamber and thank him for his leadership on this issue. We have come together in a bipartisan way under his leadership and other colleagues on both sides of the aisle. I am very grateful for the Chair's leadership.

We all agree that we need to protect our homeland, but we also have an obligation to protect the civil liberties that are the birthright of every American. It is important that we get the PATRIOT Act right, not just insist on getting it done right now. That is why we say extend it, don't end it. Extend it, don't end it.

This is a critical debate. The terrorist threat to our country is very real, and it is vital that we provide the Government with the law enforcement tools necessary to protect our Nation, to protect our families.

I am proud to have offered provisions in the PATRIOT Act to protect against money laundering. My provision, section 325, gives the Treasury Department the ability to better monitor anonymous bank accounts which can be used to move terrorist funds. This is an important provision that can be used to prevent terrorist attacks in the United States.

We need to use every tool possible to fight terrorism and to protect our citizens at home. At the same time, the threat to civil liberties is also very real in America today. Last week we were alarmed to learn that under a secret order signed by the President of the United States, the Government has been monitoring the international telephone calls and e-mail messages from people inside the United States, American citizens, without court approval. This is not something that is authorized by the PATRIOT Act or by any act of Congress but, instead, is being conducted under a secret Presidential order.

This debate is not about whether the Government should have the tools that it needs to protect the American people. Of course, it should. Nobody in this Chamber disagrees with that. That is why the PATRIOT Act passed overwhelmingly 4 years ago.

The Senate's bipartisan reauthorization bill passed unanimously in July. It was an extraordinary effort by leaders on both sides of the aisle. I am very proud of what we did back in July in unanimously passing an improved version of the PATRIOT Act.

This debate is not about whether the PATRIOT Act should suddenly expire. Of course, it should not. That is why we say, ``Extend it, don't end it.'' That is why we have offered a bipartisan bill to extend the PATRIOT Act for 3 months to give Congress time to reach a bipartisan compromise--again, authored by the Senator from New Hampshire, who is currently chairing this August body.

This extension has 47 cosponsors and counting from both sides of the aisle. This debate is about balance. It is about ensuring the safety of the American people while at the same time protecting our rights and keeping the Government accountable for its actions. These are not mutually exclusive goals. Again, we need to amend the PATRIOT Act, not end it.

The PATRIOT Act reauthorization conference report does make some important improvements and I want to thank Senator Specter and Senator Leahy for their hard work and leadership on this bill. The conference report contains the 4-year sunsets in the Senate bill instead of the original 10 years in the House bill. It no longer contains a provision that would have made it a crime merely to disclose the receipt of a national security letter. However, there is a lot more to be done before we should be passing this bill and sending it to the President.

Under section 215 of the PATRIOT Act, known as the library provision, the Government can obtain a secret order to access personal records of Americans without probable cause of a crime. That means the Government can get copies of Americans' medical or financial records, library records, gun ownership records, purchase records. It also prohibits the keeper of this information, such as a librarian, from telling anyone that they have handed over these records to the Government. Before the PATRIOT Act, the FBI had access only to certain kinds of business records such as hotel and rental car receipts and they had to meet a higher legal standards before a court in order to obtain this information.

The PATRIOT Act did away with these limitations and lowered the standard for obtaining these personal records. The Senate version of the reauthorization bill reestablished a significant check on this power, and that is very important. Under the Senate bill, relevance to an authorized investigation is not enough. The Government must also show some connection between the records they are seeking and a suspected terrorist or spy. Unfortunately, this basic protection is not in the final conference report. The Senate bill also included basic protections for the recipients of a section 215 letter to allow them to challenge the automatic permanent gag order and these protections were left out of the conference report.

The conference report's treatment of national security letters, or NSLs, also needs significant improvement. NSLs are documents issued by the Federal Government that allow the Government to seize a wide variety of business and financial records without the approval of a judge, a grand jury, or a prosecutor. This has been raised as a concern by the U.S. Chamber, other business organizations and others throughout the country. Like section 215, a person who receives an NSL is under a permanent gag order without any judicial review.

Last month, The Washington Post reported that the FBI issues more than 30,000 NSLs per year. That is a hundredfold increase over past practices.

Lastly, the conference report weakened the critical sneak-and-peek protections that were in the Senate bill. Under section 213 of the PATRIOT Act, the Government can conduct secret searches in criminal investigations. With a section 213 warrant, investigators can enter someone's home or their office, conduct a search, take pictures, seize items, without telling the person for weeks, months, or in some cases more than a year. The Senate bill replaced this standard with a 7-day rule, permitting the Government to obtain additional 90-day extensions when necessary. The conference committee changed that.

Our Founding Fathers may not have foreseen the threats we face from our enemies today, but they did foresee the threats of unchecked Government power on the civil liberties and freedoms of all Americans. Protecting Americans from unlawful search and seizure is one of the Nation's founding principles. To ignore that is to undermine our identity as Americans and our American Constitution. We owe it to the people of America to get this right, and that is why I support an extension.


That is why I ask unanimous consent that the Judiciary Committee be discharged from further consideration of Senator Sununu's bill, S. 2082, extending the PATRIOT Act for 3 months; that the Senate proceed to its immediate consideration; that the bill be read a third time and be passed, and the motion to reconsider be laid upon the table.


Ms. STABENOW. Mr. President, in response to my colleague, I simply say we have unanimous support on this side of the aisle to extend the PATRIOT Act for 3 months while working out the areas of concern to millions of Americans. I also find it rather curious, in watching this debate with the distinguished Senator, one distinguished Senator from New Hampshire speaking to another distinguished Senator from New Hampshire, who is in the chair, who is a Republican author, with another also distinguished colleague from Idaho who is another author of the extension. This is clearly a bipartisan effort on our part to do the right thing, to create the right balance to extend, not end, the PATRIOT Act at the end of the year. The choice is in the majority as to whether to join us to extend the PATRIOT Act, not end it.

I would object to bringing up the bill one more time that, in fact, has been voted on at this point. Procedurally, we have said no to this conference report. We want to extend the PATRIOT Act for 3 months, not end it, so that we can go back to the great work done unanimously by the Senate, unanimously by this body.


Ms. STABENOW. Mr. President, in conclusion, we have an opportunity to reinforce the great work done back in July by the unanimous Senate. We have bipartisan agreement that this conference report does not include the balance necessary and we have come together in a bipartisan way, with every single person on our side of the aisle and great leadership on the other side of the aisle, to say: Extend the PATRIOT Act, don't end it. We know we can work together to get this right on behalf of the American people.

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