With a week left until three of the most controversial Patriot Act provisions expire, last night, Sen. Harry Reid (D-Nev.) and Rep. John Boehner (R-Ohio) made a back-room deal to reauthorize the Patriot Act for four years, avoiding the protracted debate over the extension that was sure to ensue, given the bipartisan opposition to the provisions. And like clockwork, Sen. Reid and Sen. Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) introduced a bill, S. 1038, that will extend the provisions until June 1, 2015. The Senate begins its debate on Monday with votes possible that same night.
Sen. McConnell's spokesperson, Michael Brumas, defended the move, calling it "a clean, four-year extension." But this extension is anything but clean. This past February, Sen. Reid promised at least a full week of debate and consideration of the Patriot Act before a longer term extension was passed, yet S. 1038 reauthorizes — without amendment — three highly controversial surveillance provisions. One of these provisions has never been used, so it’s not at all clear why it’s needed; the other two provisions have routinely been abused, so they ought to be reformed. But the proposed reauthorization fails to make any of the needed changes to the law. And it significantly reduces the possibility of real congressional oversight or government accountability for another four years.
This four-year extension wasn't the only back-room business that went on regarding these expiring provisions. In the run up to this reauthorization, the GOP has had trouble corralling the votes it needs to pass the extension, so it held two Republican-only classified briefings with the FBI on the Patriot Act. While we don't know what happened in those briefings, here is what we do know:
- The Department of Justice’s Inspector General (IG) concluded in his report on Section 215 orders that “[t]he evidence showed no instance where the information obtained from a Section 215 order described in the body of the report resulted in a major investigative development.” (pg. 85)
- The IG has reported widespread abuse of the use of National Security Letters by the FBI to secretly spy on innocent Americans.
- The surveillance of Americans skyrocketed in 2010, thanks to the very tools that are set to expire next week.
We've said it before and we'll say it again: now is not the time for a long-term reauthorization, it's the time for reform. Again and again, Congress rubber-stamps extensions of the Patriot Act, forgetting each time about the widespread abuse that has resulted. Help us take action: tell Congress to stop the abuse of power, and reform or repeal the Patriot Act!