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USA Patriot Terrorism Prevention Reauthorization Act of 2005--Conference Report

Location: Washington, DC



Mr. SALAZAR. Mr. President, I discuss the pending reauthorization of the USA PATRIOT Act.

We are near the end of what has been a very long process. For the past year, Congress has grappled with the need to renew a handful of provisions of the PATRIOT Act. As my colleagues know well, this legislation has embodied the debate over how to balance the needs of law enforcement in the war on terrorism and the paramount importance of protecting Americans' civil liberties.

The greatest Americans have always understood our shared responsibility as citizens of this great country to ensure that we get this balance right. And many times over the course of the debate about the PATRIOT Act, I have thought of Benjamin Franklin's words, ``They that can give up essential liberty to obtain a little temporary safety deserve neither liberty nor safety.'' I have thought about how Daniel Webster reminded us that ``God grants liberty only to those who love it, and are always ready to guard and defend it.'' I believe that it is worth taking pains to be sure that we produce the very best balance, and the very best legislation, we can.

Last week, several Senators with whom I have worked closely over the past year announced that they had reached an agreement with the White House on a proposal to renew these controversial provisions.

Let me say at the outset that I do not believe this agreement is by any means perfect. My colleagues who were involved in negotiating this compromise would be the first to agree with me on that point.

But it does contain a number of critical improvements over the original law. Our ultimate goal was to place reasonable checks on the law enforcement powers provided by the original PATRIOT Act. Although it is not as strong in some areas as I would prefer, the legislation today accomplishes that goal.

This proposal would produce a PATRIOT Act that includes a number of specific improvements over the law that was passed 4 years ago.

Section 215 of the original PATRIOT Act allowed the government to obtain business, library, and a whole host of other personal records simply by claiming the records were related to a terrorism investigation. The current proposal provides greater protection for the most sensitive records, by requiring senior level FBI-approval for orders related to library, book, education, gun, medical or tax records, and by limiting the retention and dissemination of information regarding Americans.

The original law did not provide for judicial review of Section 215 orders, National Security Letters, or for the accompanying gag orders. The current proposal does.

The original law did not allow the recipient of a Section 215 order or a National Security Letter to consult with an attorney. The current proposal does.

The original law allowed delayed notification of property searches--so-called ``sneak-and-peek'' searches--for undefined ``reasonable'' periods. The current proposal establishes hard limits on those delays, while continuing to allow extensions when they are warranted.

The original law allowed the government to target libraries with National Security Letters. The legislation exempts libraries from NSLs unless they meet the statutory definition of an Electronic Communications Service Provider.

The original law allowed the use of ``John Doe'' roving wiretaps, which don't specify the target or the phone or computer. The current proposal imposes limits on the use of such wiretaps.

Finally, the current proposal once again sunsets the Act's most controversial provisions--Section 215 and roving wiretaps--in 4 years, increases public reporting requirements about the use of the powers authorized by the Act, and requires the Inspector General in the Department of Justice to audit the use of Section 215 and National Security Letters.

These safeguards are not simply cosmetic; they make meaningful improvements to the original law, and will go a long way toward protecting Americans' rights and freedoms.

In spite of these safeguards, the proposal before us is not perfect. I would have preferred a stronger standard for obtaining a search order under Section 215. I would have preferred that the expanded authority to issue National Security Letters be sunset. But we will have the opportunity to review these provisions--both with the sunsets contained in this legislation and its increased reporting and auditing requirements. I am committed to taking advantage of those provisions to fight for strong and appropriate civil liberties safeguards, and I know my colleagues are, too.

I joined with colleagues on both sides of the aisle to push for the very best PATRIOT Act we could realistically get. We have come to the point where the very best achievable version of the PATRIOT act is the one before us.

I thank Senators Craig, Durbin, Sununu, Feingold, and Murkowski--my fellow SAFE Act cosponsors--for all of their hard work over the past several years on this critical issue. Without their efforts, we would not have the civil liberties protections contained in this proposal. I express my sincere gratitude for allowing me to become involved in these efforts.

The vote on this agreement by no means marks the end of this process. Whether or not we differ on the legislation before us, I know we will continue to work together to provide law enforcement with the tools they need to fight terrorists, and to protect and preserve Americans' basic rights and freedoms.

That has been, and will continue to be, a fight that demands our most vigorous efforts.

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