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House Approves Renewal of Patriot Act Protections against Terrorists

Legislation Safeguards Civil Liberties, Congressional Oversight

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July 22, 2005 | Kate Matus ((202) 226-7326) | comments

WASHINGTON – The House of Representatives late yesterday passed H.R. 3199, the USA PATRIOT and Terrorism Prevention Reauthorization Act of 2005 by a vote of 257-171. First District Congressman Paul Ryan voted in favor of the measure, which reauthorizes expiring provisions of the PATRIOT Act (and two provisions of the Intelligence Reform Act) that were scheduled to sunset in December. The legislation ensures our law enforcement will retain the tools it needs to protect our homeland and fight terrorism, while at the same time preserving citizens’ constitutional rights and civil liberties. 

“As the recent terrorist bombings in London remind us, the terrorists have not given up attacking free societies and murdering innocent people. Clearly, now is not the time to downgrade our ability to detect and counter terrorist plots here in the United States. This legislation will keep key provisions of the Patriot Act that have helped unravel terrorist cells and save lives,” Ryan said. 

“It also includes improvements that strengthen the law’s civil liberties protections and provide for congressional and judicial oversight. Guarding the constitutional rights of citizens must be our highest priority, and the use of this law should continue to be carefully monitored by Congress. It has been applied responsibly so far, and we must see to it that Americans’ rights and freedoms remain secure.” 

Among its provisions, the PATRIOT Act, which passed in 2001 after the September 11 terrorist attacks, did the folllowing: 

  • Removed major legal barriers that prevented the law enforcement, intelligence, and national defense communities from coordinating their work and sharing information;

  • Gave law enforcement the ability to use many of the same tools for terrorist investigations that it already used to fight organized crime; 

  • Modernized wiretapping and surveillance laws that apply to terrorist investigations in order to keep up with changing technologies such as cell phones and e-mail. 

The House Judiciary Committee conducted a careful review of the PATRIOT Act, holding 12 hearings since April on the law, and H.R. 3199 was amended by both Democrats and Republicans in committee and on the floor of the House. During floor consideration by the full House of Representatives, H.R. 3199 was amended 17 times, covering matters ranging from heightened penalties for terrorist acts to streamlining funding for first responders. 

The legislation makes permanent most of the expiring PATRIOT Act provisions, but subjects two provisions to a 10-year sunset. Congressman Ryan supports these sunsets because they necessitate continued congressional oversight that will help ensure the protection of Americans’ civil liberties. The provisions that are scheduled to sunset in 10 years are:

  • Section 206, which authorizes “roving” wiretaps for terrorist investigations, which attach to a particular target rather than a particular phone. Advances in technology such as cell phones made this update to surveillance law important, which is why criminal cases have had the ability to use roving wiretaps for years. Before the PATRIOT Act, every time a suspected terrorist changed cell phones, investigators had to return to court for a new order. 

  • Section 215, which gives the government the ability to get business records and other tangible things with an order from a federal court in a terrorist investigation. For years, ordinary grand juries have issued subpoenas to businesses for records relevant to criminal inquiries. Section 215 of the PATRIOT Act contains safeguards that protect civil liberties, and it is actually more protective of privacy than the law for ordinary grand-jury subpoenas. Section 215 has a narrow scope, requires a court order, and provides for continued congressional oversight. 

Among the amendments that Congressman Ryan voted in favor of were measures that ensure added protection for citizens’ constitutional rights by: 

  • Requiring the FBI director to personally approve the use of Section 215 in order for the government to obtain library or bookstore records with a federal court order. To date, this section of the Patriot Act has never be used for this purpose, but if the situation were to arise as part of a terrorism investigation, this amendment mandates the approval of the FBI director. 

  • Permitting the recipient of requests for material information under the PATRIOT Act to consult with an attorney and challenge the request before providing the information to the government.

  • Limiting the circumstances under which the government can delay notification to an individual that their property has been searched. (Delayed-notice search warrants have been used by law enforcement officers for decades, in the event law enforcement can demonstrate probable cause that criminal activity is afoot. The PATRIOT Act standardized inconsistent rules, practices, and court decisions regarding delayed-notice search warrants, which can be used only with a court order.) 

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