FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
WASHINGTON -The U.S. House voted today to reject the Bush Administration's demand that Congress limit its role in overseeing Patriot Act powers and called for legislation that would help fix some of the secret search powers expanded by the act in 2001. The American Civil Liberties Union today applauded the bipartisan push by lawmakers, which specifically calls on Congress to revisit some of the more controversial powers again in four years.
"Today, the House stood firmly in its convictions and said that America can, and must, be both safe and free," said Caroline Fredrickson, Director of the ACLU Washington Legislative Office. "Four years after its passage, we know that the Patriot Act went too far, too fast. Lawmakers from both sides of the aisle are uncomfortable with the secret search powers expanded by the Patriot Act and have signaled that this law must be reformed to protect our fundamental freedoms and privacy."
Both chambers of Congress have passed different bills to reauthorize the Patriot Act. Today, the House of Representatives named negotiators to reconcile differences with their Senate counterparts. On a voice vote, with no dissenting votes, the House adopted a "motion to instruct" calling on the House conferees to adopt specific language on the Patriot Act reauthorization bill.
The motion, sponsored by Representatives Rick Boucher (D-VA), Dana Rohrbacher (R-CA) and Connie Mack (R-FL) calls for adoption of the Senate language regarding sunsets on section 215. That section of the Patriot Act expanded the FBI's ability to obtain a secret order for Americans' medical, library and business records, and "any tangible thing," without showing any facts connecting the records to a suspected terrorist. If adopted, these changes would run counter to the specific calls from the White House for the adoption of the House bill: the Senate bill provides more Congressional oversight on some of the most egregious Patriot Act powers.
"In a show of political defiance, the House rejected the White House's call for expanded and unchecked government powers," added Fredrickson. "We commend the chairman and ranking member of the House Judiciary Committee for supporting the motion, and we applaud the Republicans and Democrats who supported it. It's a victory for our fundamental freedoms."
The ACLU noted that calls for reforms have come from a politically diverse chorus, including the American Conservative Union, Americans for Tax Reform and Gun Owners of America. Leading business organizations have also spoken out in favor of the Senate reforms to the secret record search powers expanded by the Patriot Act. Those groups include the Chamber of Commerce, the National Association of Manufacturers, the National Association of Realtors, the Association of Corporate Counsel, the Financial Services Roundtable and Business Civil Liberties, Inc.
The ACLU also noted, as did the business community, that neither bill provides enough protections on the National Security Letter power vastly expanded by the Patriot Act. These are secret search orders that the FBI can issue without any judicial approval. Recent news reports show that an estimated 30,000 national security letters are issued by the FBI annually, a hundred-fold increase since the Patriot Act's enactment, and that the FBI retains all of the private information about American citizens swept up in these fishing expeditions, even if it is irrelevant. The ACLU is currently involved in two separate lawsuits challenging the constitutionality of this power, but is gagged from disclosing information about the plaintiffs.
The House conferees named today are Representatives Jim Sensenbrenner (R-WI), Steve Chabot (R-OH), Elton Gallegly (R-CA), Bob Goodlatte (R-VA), Howard Coble (R-NC), Peter Hoekstra (R-MI), Lamar Smith (R-TX), Heather Wilson (R-NM), Charles Norwood (R-GA), William Jenkins (R-TN), John Shadegg (R-AZ), Michael Oxley (R-OH), Spencer Bachus (R-AL), Peter King (R-NY), Curt Weldon (R-PA), and John Conyers (D-MI), Jane Harman (D-CA), Howard Berman (D-CA), Rick Boucher (D-VA), Jerry Nadler (D-NY), Bobby Scott (D-VA), John Dingell (D-MI), Barney Frank (D-MA),and Zoe Lofgren (D-CA). Conferees for the Senate are Senators Arlen Specter (R-PA), Pat Roberts (R-KS), Orrin Hatch (R-UT), Mike DeWine (R-OH), Jon Kyl (R-AZ), Jeff Sessions (R-AL), Patrick Leahy (D-VT), John Rockefeller (D-WV), Ted Kennedy (D-MA), and Carl Levin (D-MI).
"These lawmakers have an unparalleled chance to fix the serious flaws in the Patriot Act that were pushed through in 2001," said Lisa Graves, ACLU Senior Counsel for Legislative Strategy. "We hope Congress will listen to the millions of Americans, from all walks of life, who have spoken out in favor of common sense reforms to these secret search powers. Especially with the recent revelations about how widely these powers are being used, Congress has a responsibility to bring the Patriot Act in line with the Constitution and not cave in to theadministration when it comes to protecting our fundamental liberties."
For more on the ACLU's concerns with the Patriot Act, go to: