Last Thursday, Congress passed a bill (315-97) without much fanfare, and without any revisions, that extends highly criticized portions of the U.S. Patriot Act, which many have argued is riddled with privacy concerns. The Electronic Privacy Information Center (EPIC) had several concerns that they wanted addressed. How did that happen?
Jared Kaprove, EPIC Domestic Surveillance Counsel, says the extension of the bill without any modifications is disappointing since a revised U.S. Patriot Act that was bipartisan supported was moving along on its own on Tuesday.
EPIC is disappointed by the way this turned out, because there was a very good bill in the House and a good bill in the Senate, both of which would have tied reauthorization to enhanced protections and greater oversight. The Obama administration had asked for the provisions to be extended, but had expressed willingness to support the new protections as well. We're especially disappointed that the proposed reforms to the National Security Letter process won't be implemented, in light of last month's Inspector General report that the FBI had violated its own guidelines, justice department policy, and federal wiretap laws in the process of gathering information (http://epic.org/2010/01/inspector-general-finds-egregi.html ). Given the instances of documented abuse of the power, we would rather that the provisions have been allowed to expire.
And then the roof caved in, H.R. 3961 - Medicare Physician Payment Reform Act of 2009 -was going through the House. Everyone in the House knew about the expiry of the existing extensions of the Patriot Act and thus was slipped as amendments to H.R. 3961. It was either that or watch H.R. 3961 face an uphill battle getting passed on the floor. According to the record, here is how the extension came to the floor as an amendment to H.R. 3961;
Mr. CONYERS. I yield myself such time as I may consume.
Mr. Speaker and Members, this measure before us will extend three provisions of our foreign intelligence surveillance laws for 1 year.
The provisions are section 206 of the PATRIOT Act, governing roving wiretaps; section 215, which addresses the collection of business records; and the so-called ``lone wolf surveillance law.''
Without extension, these provisions will expire on Sunday coming.
As we consider this short-term extension, I make these observations:
As one who has found that the USA PATRIOT Act needs a great deal of improvement and that there have been many excesses and sometimes abuses of these broad powers over the years, I have found that too little consideration of the impact of this type of surveillance on our civil liberties has been looked into. And that's why the Judiciary Committee has undergone an extensive process over the past year and reported out a bill that attempts to reform these provisions and enhance congressional oversight. In the other body, the Judiciary Committee has also passed out a bill that improves, in my view, the PATRIOT Act. So we're very close to real reform.
The House bill has new protections for library and bookseller records. It clarifies the reach of roving authority to prevent ``John Doe'' blanket wiretaps. It tightens the standards for national security letters that have been abused in the past. It has extensive new reporting oversight and sunset provisions to greatly strengthen congressional oversight and makes other changes to the related provisions of law.
Please understand, Members, that this extension is not the final word on the PATRIOT Act, and what we will do is use the time between now and the year that will elapse to improve and pass real reform. Now, while I would prefer to do this now, it is not to me strategically wise nor logistically possible to accomplish this at this time. And with the provisions expiring in a matter of 3 days, the other body has sent us this extension bill, so there is no reasonable possibility that they could pass a broader measure such as a Judiciary- passed bill at this time.
In other words, we have no other choice but to go along with this extension because there isn't sufficient time. Well, tomorrow is the last day of the week. It's physically impossible. So under these circumstances, it seems to me the best course is to merely maintain the status quo and work with the other body and the administration towards some improvements that I have in mind. I can announce we've made progress towards reaching common ground, and I believe an orderly path forward between now and during the next year will lead us to a much better result.
Now, although this extension doesn't reform underlying law, we recognize there's some value in a process that brings us quickly to another sunset date. Experience has taught that there's nothing like an approaching sunset to bring both the executive branch and the other body to the table with the will to see this resolved. So while I'd rather pass the Judiciary Committee bill out and truly make the reforms that I think are necessary, because of the time constraints that we find, I recommend that we take the next year and continue the process.
I urge your careful consideration of this very important measure.
Mr. Speaker, I reserve the balance of my time.
The Patriot Act has come under fire by the Office of the Inspector General of the Department of Justice review of the FBI.
It is amazing just how fast individual civil and electronic rights can be negotiated away and be tossed about without blinking an eye. Since senior Democratic leaders wanted H.R. 3961 to go through, the President signed it on Saturday. Republicans have a lot of leverage despite not being in control of either house.