Congressman John Conyers Jr. (Democrat - MI) released the following statement calling the bill calling for reauthorization of the Patriot Act "dangerous" because it makes it harder for recipients to challenge gag-orders, and complaining about the lack of debates or hearings leading up to the vote tomorrow:
There is no more difficult task we have as legislators than balancing our Nation's need for security against our citizens' civil liberties. Nearly five years after the tragedy of September 11, and in the midst of a war against terror without any clear endpoint, it is increasingly clear that we are failing in that task.
We failed when we rushed through the first PATRIOT Act while the wreck of the World Trade Center was still smoldering. We failed when we refused to address the repeated civil liberties abuses by our own government. We failed when were unable to put profits and tax cuts before security. And today, we are failing yet again, by taking up S. 2771. Not only is the bill substantively dangerous, it does nothing to respond to the serious flaws in the conference report, and it should not be on the suspension calendar.
First, the bill is dangerous because it makes it practically impossible to challenge the gag orders that comes with a secretive 215 orders. It would not only make the recipient wait at least one full year before challenging a gag order, it deems government certifications concerning possible harm to national security to be "conclusive." This is far worse than current law under which the federal courts have rejected numerous certifications which failed to provide sufficient facts to justify the gag order.
Second, the bill operates as a mere fig leaf, covering over serious problems in the underlying conference report. For example, the bill pretends to protect libraries from receiving National Security Letters, but then revokes that protection if the library offers internet access, which nearly every library in the country does. The bill also does nothing to prevent the government from using security letters to obtain confidential information having nothing to do with terrorism; nothing to protect secret physical searches of homes and offices; and nothing to rein in abusive roving wiretap orders.
Third, this bill should not be on the suspension calendar which is ordinarily reserved for non-controversial, consensus legislation. This bill was written by a group of four Senators, with input only from the Administration. There was no consultation with the Conference Committee, no consultation with the Senate, and certainly no consultation with the House. Despite the lack of process, despite the absence of hearings or any committee debate, we are being asked to approve this bill on a take it or leave it basis. We have no opportunity to offer a single amendment on this issue of civil rights and liberties which is so important to our Democracy.
If we are serious about combating terror in the 21st century, we must move beyond symbolic gestures and color coded threat levels, and begin to make the hard choices needed to protect our nation. If we really want to prevent terrorists from targeting our citizens and our cities, we need to stand up to the gun lobby and keep assault weapons out of the hands of suspected terrorists.
If we really want to prevent bombings like those which devastated London and Spain recently, we need to challenge the explosives industry to help us regulate sales of black and smokeless powder.
And if we really want to protect our people and secure our ports and other soft terrorism targets, the Administration needs to honor the letter and the spirit of our security laws and fully fund our homeland security needs.
The legislation before us today endangers our civil liberties, while doing nothing meaningful to protect our people, and I urge a NO vote.