I Strongly Oppose Patriot Act Deal
Wednesday 15 February 2006
Statement of US Senator Russ Feingold as prepared for delivery from the Senate floor, February 15, 2006.
Mr. President, it will come as no surprise that I'd like to talk about the Patriot Act today. I strongly oppose proceeding to consideration of S. 2271, which is legislation introduced by some of my friends and colleagues to implement the deal on the Patriot Act that was struck with the White House last week. Some may argue that there's no harm in passing a bill that could charitably be described as trivial. But protecting the rights of law-abiding Americans is not trivial. And passage of S. 2271 is the first step toward passage of the flawed Patriot Act conference report. I will oppose both measures and I am prepared to explain at length my reasons for doing so.
While I greatly respect the Senators who negotiated this deal, I am gravely disappointed in the outcome. The White House would agree to only a few minor changes to the same Patriot Act conference report that could not get through the Senate back in December. These changes do not address the major problems with the Patriot Act that a bipartisan coalition has been trying to fix for the past several years. They are, quite frankly a fig leaf to allow those who were fighting hard to improve the Act to now step down, claim victory, and move on. What a hollow victory that would be, and what a complete reversal of the strong bipartisan consensus that we saw in this body just a couple months ago. What we are seeing is quite simply a capitulation to the intransigent and misleading rhetoric of a White House that sees any effort to protect civil liberties as a sign of weakness. Protecting American values is not weakness, Mr. President. Standing on principle is not weakness. And committing to fighting terrorism aggressively without compromising the rights and freedoms this country was founded upon - that's not weakness either. We've come too far and fought too hard to agree to reauthorize the Patriot Act without fixing any of the major problems with the Act. A few insignificant, face-savings changes just don't cut it. I cannot support this deal, and I strongly oppose proceeding to legislation that will implement it.
I understand the pressure that my colleagues have been under on this issue, and I appreciate all the hard work that they have done on the Patriot Act. It has been very gratifying to work on a bipartisan basis on this issue. It is unfortunate that the White House is so obviously trying to make this into a partisan issue, because it sees some political advantage to doing so. Whether the White House likes it or not, this will continue to be an issue where both Democrats and Republicans have concerns, and we will continue to work together for changes to the law. I am sure of that.
But I will also continue to strongly oppose any reauthorization of the Patriot Act that does not protect the rights and freedoms of law-abiding Americans with no connection to terrorism. This deal does not meet that standard - it doesn't even come close. I urge my colleagues to oppose it, and therefore I ask that they oppose proceeding to this legislation.
I wanted to take some time today to lay out the background and the context for this ongoing debate over the Patriot Act, a debate that will not end with the reauthorization of the sixteen provisions that are now set to expire on March 10. And I would like to discuss my concerns about this reauthorization deal with some specificity.
Mr. President, because I was the only Senator to vote against the Patriot Act in 2001, I want to be very clear from the start. I am not opposed to reauthorization of the Patriot Act. I supported the bipartisan, compromise reauthorization bill that the Senate passed last July without a single Senator objecting. I believe that bill should become law. The Senate reauthorization bill is not a perfect bill, but it is a good bill. If that were the bill we had considered back in December or the bill we were considering today, I would speak in support of it. In fact, we could have completed the process of reauthorizing the Patriot Act months ago if the House had taken up the bill that the Senate approved without any objections.
I also want to respond to those who argue that people who are continuing to call for a better reauthorization package want to let the Patriot Act expire. That is nonsense. Not a single member of this body is calling for any provision of the Patriot Act to expire. There are any number of ways that we can reauthorize the Act while amending its most problematic provisions and I am not prepared to support reauthorization without adequate reforms.
Let me also be clear about how this process fell apart at the end of last year and how we ended up having to extend the Patriot Act temporarily past the end of 2005. In December this body, in one of its prouder moments in recent years, refused to let through a badly flawed conference report. A bipartisan group of Senators stood together and demanded further changes. We made very clear what we were asking for. We laid out five issues that needed to be addressed to get our support. Let me read some excerpts from a letter that we sent explaining our concerns:
The draft conference report would allow the government to obtain sensitive personal information on a mere showing of relevance. This would allow government fishing expeditions. As business groups like the US Chamber of Commerce have argued, the government should be required to convince a judge that the records they are seeking have some connection to a suspected terrorist or spy.
The draft conference report does not permit the recipient of a Section 215 order to challenge its automatic, permanent gag order. Courts have held that similar restrictions violate the First Amendment. The recipient of a Section 215 order is entitled to meaningful judicial review of the gag order.
The draft conference report does not provide meaningful judicial review of an NSL's gag order. It requires the court to accept as conclusive the government's assertion that a gag order should not be lifted, unless the court determines the government is acting in bad faith. The recipients of NSLs are entitled to meaningful judicial review of a gag order.
The draft conference report does not sunset the NSL authority. In light of recent revelations about possible abuses of NSLs, the NSL provision should sunset in no more than four years so that Congress will have an opportunity to review the use of this power.
The draft conference report requires the government to notify the target of a "sneak and peek" search no earlier than 30 days after the search, rather than within seven days, as the Senate bill provides and as pre-Patriot Act judicial decisions required. The conference report should include a presumption that notice will be provided within a significantly shorter period in order to better protect Fourth Amendment rights. The availability of additional 90-day extensions means that a shorter initial time frame should not be a hardship on the government.
That is from a letter that we sent late last year. Now, you might ask, in this newly announced deal on the Patriot Act, have any of these five problems been solved?
The answer is "No." Not a single one. Only one of these issues has been even partially addressed by this deal. The White House applied immense pressure and pulled out its usual scare tactics, and succeeded in convincing people to accept a deal that makes only a tiny substantive improvement to the bill that was rejected in December. This is simply not acceptable.
I want to explain in detail my biggest concerns with the conference report, as modified by S. 2271, the legislation that the majority leader is seeking to take up. But first I want to clear up one frequent misconception. I have never advocated repeal of any portion of the Patriot Act. In fact, as I have said repeatedly over the past four years, I supported most of that bill. There are many good provisions in that bill. As my colleagues know, the Patriot Act did a lot more than expand our surveillance laws. Among other things, it set up a national network to prevent and detect electronic crimes, like the sabotage of the nation's financial sector; it established a counterterrorism fund to help Justice Department offices disabled in terrorist attacks keep operating; and it changed the money laundering laws to make them more useful in disrupting the financing of terrorist organizations. One section even condemned discrimination against Arab and Muslim Americans.
Even some of the Act's surveillance sections were reasonable. One provision authorized the FBI to expedite the hiring of translators. Another added terrorism and computer crimes to the list of crimes for which criminal wiretap orders could be sought. And some provisions helped to bring down what has been termed "the wall" that had built up between intelligence and law enforcement agencies.
Whenever we start debating the Patriot Act, we hear a lot of people saying that we must reauthorize the Patriot Act in order to ensure that the wall does not go back up. So let me make this clear. I supported the information sharing provisions of the Patriot Act. One of the key lessons we learned in the wake of September 11 was that our intelligence and law enforcement agencies were not sharing information with each other, even where the statutes permitted it.
Unfortunately, the wall was not so much a legal problem as it was a problem of culture. The report of the 9/11 Commission made that clear. And I'm sorry to report that we have not made as much progress as we should have in bringing down those very significant cultural barriers to information sharing among our agencies. The 9/11 Commission report card that was issued toward the end of last year gave the government a "D" for information sharing because our agencies' cultures have not changed enough. As the statement issued by Chairman Kean and Vice Chairman Hamilton explained, "You can change the law, you can change the technology, but you still need to change the culture. You still need to motivate institutions and individuals to share information." And so far, our government has not met this challenge.
Talking about the importance of information sharing, as Administration officials and other supporters of the conference report have done repeatedly, is part of a pattern that started several years ago. Rather than engage in a true debate on the controversial parts of the Patriot Act, as some in this body have done - to their credit - during this reauthorization process, many proponents of the Patriot Act just point to non-controversial provisions of the Patriot Act and talk about how important they are. They say this bill must be passed because it reauthorizes those non-controversial provisions. That does not advance the debate, it just muddies the waters. We don't have to accept bad provisions to make sure the good provisions become law.
Mr. President, today I do want to advance the debate. I want to spend some time explaining my specific concerns with the conference report and the deal that was struck to make a few minor changes to it. It is very unfortunate that the whole Congress could not come together as the Senate did around the Senate's bipartisan, compromise reauthorization bill. Back in July, the Senate Judiciary Committee voted unanimously in favor of a reauthorization bill that made meaningful changes to the most controversial provisions of the Patriot Act to protect the rights and freedoms of innocent Americans. Shortly thereafter, that bill passed the full Senate by unanimous consent.
It was not easy for me to support that Senate bill, which fell short of the improvements contained in the bipartisan SAFE Act. But at the end of the day, the Senate bill contained meaningful changes to some of the most problematic provisions of the Patriot Act - provisions that I have been trying to fix since October 2001 - and I decided to support it. I made it very clear at the time, however, that I viewed that bill as the end point of negotiations, not the beginning. In fact, I specifically warned my colleagues "that the conference process must not be allowed to dilute the safeguards in this bill." Mr. President, I meant it, but it appears that people either weren't listening or weren't taking me seriously. This conference report as slightly modified by this deal, unfortunately, does not contain many important reforms to the Patriot Act that we passed here in the Senate. So I cannot support it. And I will fight it.
I want to remind my colleagues of the serious problems with the Patriot Act that we have been discussing for several years. Let me start with Section 215, the so-called "library" provision, which has received so much public attention.
I remember when the former Attorney General of the United States called the librarians who were expressing disagreement with this provision "hysterical." What a revelation it was when the Chairman of the Judiciary Committee, the Senator from Pennsylvania, opened his questioning of the current Attorney General during his confirmation hearing by expressing concern about this provision of the Patriot Act. He got the Attorney General to concede that yes, in fact, this provision probably went a bit too far and could be improved and clarified. That was an extraordinary moment.
It was a moment that was very slow in coming, and long overdue. And I give credit to the Senator from Pennsylvania because it allowed us to start having a real debate on the Patriot Act. But credit also has to go to the American people who stood up, despite the dismissive and derisive comments of government officials, and said with loud voices - the Patriot Act needs to be changed.
These voices came from the left and the right, from big cities and small towns all across the country. So far, more than 400 state and local government bodies have passed resolutions calling for revisions to the Patriot Act. I plan to read some of those resolutions on the floor during this debate. There are a lot of them. And nearly every one mentions Section 215. Section 215 is at the center of this debate over the Patriot Act. It is also one of the provisions that I tried unsuccessfully to amend here on this floor in October 2001. So it makes sense to start my discussion of the specific problems I have with the conference report with the infamous "library" provision.
Section 215 of the Patriot Act allows the government to obtain secret court orders in domestic intelligence investigations to get all kinds of business records about people, including not just library records, but also medical records and various other types of business records. The Patriot Act allowed the government to obtain these records as long as they were "sought for" a terrorism investigation. That's a very low standard. It didn't require that the records concern someone who was suspected of being a terrorist or spy, or even suspected of being connected to a terrorist or spy. It didn't require any demonstration of how the records would be useful in the investigation. Under Section 215, if the government simply said it wanted records for a terrorism investigation the secret FISA court was required to issue the order - period. To make matters worse, recipients of these orders are also subject to an automatic gag order. They cannot tell anyone that they have been asked for records.
Now some in the Administration, and even in this body, took the position that people shouldn't be able to criticize these provisions until they could come up with a specific example of "abuse." The Attorney General has repeatedly made that same argument, and he did so again in December in an op-ed in the Washington Post when he dismissed concerns about the Patriot Act by saying that "[t]here have been no verified civil liberties abuses in the four years of the act's existence." First of all, that has always struck me as a strange argument since 215 orders are issued by a secret court and people who receive them are prohibited by law from discussing them. In other words, the law is designed so that it's almost impossible to know if abuses have occurred.
But even more importantly, the claim about lack of abuses just isn't credible given what we now know about how this Administration views the surveillance laws that this body writes. We now know that for the past four-plus years, the government has been wiretapping the international communications of Americans inside the United States, without obtaining the wiretap orders required by statute. You want to talk about abuses? I can't imagine a more shocking example of an abuse of power, than to violate the law by eavesdropping on American citizens without first getting a court order based on some evidence that they are possibly criminals, terrorists or spies. So I don't want to hear again from the Attorney General or anyone on this floor that this government has shown it can be trusted to use the power we give it with restraint and care.
The government should not have the kind of broad, intrusive powers in Section 215 - not this government, not any government. And the American people shouldn't have to live with a poorly drafted provision that clearly allows for the records of innocent Americans to be searched and just hope that the government uses it with restraint. A government of laws doesn't require its citizens to rely on the good will and good faith of those who have these powers - especially when adequate safeguards can be written into the laws without compromising their usefulness as a law enforcement tool.
After lengthy and difficult negotiations, the Judiciary Committee came up with language that achieved that goal. It would require the government to convince a judge that a person has some connection to terrorism or espionage before obtaining their sensitive records. And when I say some connection, that's what I mean. The Senate bill's standard is the following: (1) that the records pertain to a terrorist or spy; (2) that the records pertain to an individual in contact with or known to a suspected terrorist or spy; or (3) that the records are relevant to the activities of a suspected terrorist or spy. That's the three prong test in the Senate bill and I think it is more than adequate to give law enforcement the power it needs to conduct investigations, while also protecting the rights of innocent Americans. It would not limit the types of records that the government could obtain, and it does not go as far to protect law-abiding Americans as I might prefer, but it would make sure the government cannot go on fishing expeditions into the records of innocent people.
The Senate bill also would give recipients of a 215 order an explicit, meaningful right to challenge those orders and the accompanying gag orders in court. These provisions passed the Senate Judiciary Committee unanimously after tough negotiations late into the night. As anyone familiar with the Judiciary Committee knows, that's no easy feat.
The conference report did away with this delicate compromise. First, and most importantly, it does not contain the critical modification to the standard for Section 215 orders. The Senate bill permits the government to obtain business records only if it can satisfy one or more prongs of the three prong test. This is a broad standard with a lot of flexibility. But it retains the core protection that the government cannot go after someone who has no connection whatsoever to a terrorist or spy or their activities.
The conference report replaces the three prong test with a simple relevance standard. It then provides a presumption of relevance if the government meets one of the three prongs. It is silly to argue that this is adequate protection against a fishing expedition. The only actual requirement in the conference report is that the government show that those records are relevant to an authorized intelligence investigation. Relevance is a very broad standard that could arguably justify the collection of all kinds of information about law-abiding Americans. The three prongs now are just examples of how the government can satisfy the relevance standard. That is not simply a loophole or an exception that swallows the rule. The exception is the rule.
I'll try to make this as straightforward as I can. The Senate bill requires the government to satisfy one of three tests. Each test requires some connection between the records and a suspected terrorist or spy. The conference report says that the government only is required to satisfy a new, fourth test, which is relevance, and which does not require a connection between the records and a suspect. The other three tests no longer provide any protections at all.
This issue was perhaps the most significant reason that I and others objected to the conference report. So how was this issue addressed by the White House deal to get the support of some Senators? It wasn't. Not one change was made on the standard for obtaining Section 215 orders. That is a grave disappointment. The White House refused to make any changes at all. Not only would it not accept the Senate version of Section 215, which no member of this body objected to back in July, it wouldn't make any change in the conference report on this issue at all.
Another significant problem with the conference report that was rejected back in December was that it does not authorize judicial review of the gag order that comes with a Section 215 order. While some have argued that the review by the FISA court of a government application for a Section 215 order is equivalent to judicial review of the accompanying gag order, that is simply inaccurate. The statute does not give the FISA court any latitude to make an individualized decision about whether to impose a gag order when it issues a Section 215 order. It is required by statute to include a gag order in every Section 215 order. That means the gag order is automatic and permanent in every case. This is a serious deficiency, one that very likely violates the First Amendment. In litigation challenging a similar permanent, automatic gag rule in a National Security Letter statute, two courts have found First Amendment violations because there is no individualized evaluation of the need for secrecy. I have those decisions here. Perhaps I'll have a chance to read them during this debate.
Now, this question of judicial review of the Section 215 gag order is one issue that actually is addressed by the White House deal. Addressed, but not solved. Far from it. Under the deal, there is judicial review of Section 215 gag orders, but it can only take place after a year has passed and can only be successful if the recipient of the Section 215 order proves that that government has acted in bad faith. As many of us have argued in the context of National Security Letters, that is a virtually impossible standard to meet. We need meaningful judicial review of these gag orders, not just the illusion of it.
I do want to acknowledge one change made by the White House deal that I think is an improvement over the conference report. The conference report clarifies that recipients of both Section 215 orders and National Security Letters - which I will talk about in detail in a moment - can consult an attorney. But it also includes a provision that appears to require the recipients of these letters to notify the FBI if they consult with an attorney and to identify the attorney to the FBI. Obviously, this could have a significant chilling effect on the right to counsel. The deal struck with the White House makes clear that recipients of Section 215 orders and National Security Letters would not have to tell the FBI if they consult with an attorney. That is an improvement over the conference report, but unfortunately it is only one relatively minor change.
Mr. President, let me turn next to a very closely related provision that has finally been getting the attention it deserves: National Security Letters, or NSLs, an authority that was expanded by Sections 358 and 505 of the Patriot Act. This NSL issue has flown under the radar for years, even though many of us have been trying to bring more public attention to it. I'm gratified that we are finally talking about NSLs, in large part due to a lengthy Washington Post story published last year on the use of these authorities.
What are NSLs, and why are they such a concern? Let me spend a little time on this because it really is important.
National Security Letters are issued by the FBI to businesses to obtain certain types of records. So they are similar to Section 215 orders, but with one very critical difference. The government does not need to get any court approval whatsoever to issue them. It doesn't have to go to the FISA court and make even the most minimal showing. It simply issues the order signed by the Special Agent in Charge of a Field Office or some other FBI headquarters official.
NSLs can only be used to obtain certain categories of business records, while Section 215 orders can be used to obtain "any tangible thing." But even the categories reachable by an NSL are quite broad. NSLs can be used to obtain three types of business records: subscriber and transactional information related to Internet and phone usage; credit reports; and financial records, a category that has been expanded to include records from all kinds of everyday businesses like jewelers, car dealers, travel agents and even casinos.
Just as with Section 215, the Patriot Act expanded the NSL authorities to allow the government to use them to obtain records of people who are not suspected of being, or even of being connected to, terrorists or spies. The government need only certify that the documents are either sought for or relevant to an authorized intelligence investigation, a far-reaching standard that could be used to obtain all kinds of records about innocent Americans. And just as with Section 215, the recipient is subject to an automatic, permanent gag rule.
The conference report does little to fix the problems with the National Security Letter authorities. In fact, it could be argued that it makes the law worse. Let me explain why.
First, the conference report does nothing to fix the standard for issuing an NSL. It leaves in place the breathtakingly broad relevance standard. Now, some have analogized NSLs to grand jury subpoenas, which are issued by grand juries in criminal investigations to obtain records that are relevant to the crime they are investigating. So, the argument goes, what is the big deal if NSLs are also issued under a relevance standard for intelligence investigations?
Two critical differences make that analogy break down very quickly. First of all, the key question is: Relevant to what? In criminal cases, grand juries are investigating specific crimes, the scope of which is explicitly defined in the criminal code. Although the grand jury is quite powerful, the scope of its investigation is limited by the particular crime it is investigating. In sharp contrast, intelligence investigations are, by definition, extremely broad. When you are gathering information in an intelligence investigation, anything could potentially be relevant. Suppose the government believes a suspected terrorist visited Los Angeles in the last year or so. It might then want to obtain and keep the records of everyone who has stayed in every hotel in LA, or booked a trip to LA through a travel agent, over the past couple years, and it could argue strongly that that information is relevant to a terrorism investigation because it would be useful to run all those names through the terrorist watch list.
Now, I don't have any reason to believe that such broad use of NSLs is happening. But the point is that when you are talking about intelligence investigations, "relevance" is a very different concept than in criminal investigations. It is certainly conceivable that NSLs could be used for that kind of broad dragnet in an intelligence investigation.
Nothing in current law prevents it. The nature of criminal investigations and intelligence investigations is different, and let's not forget that.
Second, the recipients of grand jury subpoenas are not subject to the automatic secrecy that NSL recipients are. We should not underestimate the power of allowing public disclosure when the government overreaches. In 2004, federal officials withdrew a grand jury subpoena issued to Drake University for a list of participants in an antiwar protest because of public revelations about the demand. That could not have happened if the request had been under Section 215 or for records available via the NSL authorities.
Unfortunately, there are many other reasons why the conference report does so little good on NSLs. Let's talk next about judicial review. The conference report creates the illusion of judicial review for NSLs, both for the letters themselves and for the accompanying gag rule, but if you look at the details, it is drafted in a way that makes that review virtually meaningless. With regard to the NSLs themselves, the conference report permits recipients to consult their lawyer and seek judicial review, but it also allows the government to keep all of its submissions secret and not share them with the challenger, regardless of whether there are national security interests at stake. So you can challenge the order, but you have no way of knowing what the government is telling the court in response to your challenge. The parties could be arguing about something as garden variety as attorney-client privilege, with no national security issues, and the government would have the ability to keep its submission secret. That is a serious departure from our usual adversarial process, and it is very disturbing.
The other significant problem with the judicial review provisions is the standard for getting the gag rule overturned.
In order to prevail, the recipient has to prove that any certification by the government that disclosure would harm national security or impair diplomatic relations was made in bad faith. This is a standard of review that is virtually impossible to meet. So what we have is the illusion of judicial review. When you look behind the words in the statute, you realize it's just a mirage.
Does the White House deal address these problems? It does not. In fact, as I have already discussed, it expands that same very troubling standard of review to judicial review of Section 215 gag orders.
The modifications to the conference report agreed to by the White House do contain one other purported change to one of the NSL statutes. This modification states that the FBI cannot issue an NSL for transactional and subscriber information about telephone and Internet usage to a library unless the library is offering "electronic communication services" as defined in the statute. But that just restates the existing requirements of the NSL statute, which currently applies only to entities - libraries or otherwise - that provide "electronic communication services." So that provision has no real legal effect whatsoever. Perhaps that explains why the American Library Association issued a statement calling this provision a "fig leaf" and expressing disappointment that so many Senators have agreed to this deal.
I also want to take a moment to address, again, an argument that has been made about the NSL provisions of the conference report. It has been argued that many of the complaints I have about the NSL provisions of the conference report apply equally to the NSL provisions of the Senate bill. And because I supported the Senate bill, by some convoluted theory my complaints are therefore invalid and I should support the conference report.
Mr. President, that just makes no sense. The NSL section of the Senate bill was one of the worst sections of the bill.
I didn't like it then, and I don't like it now. But in the context of the larger package of reforms that were in the Senate bill, including the important changes to Section 215 that I talked about earlier and the new time limit on "sneak and peek" search warrants that I will talk about in a moment, I was able to accept that NSL section even though I would have preferred additional reforms.
Now, the argument has been made that after supporting a compromise package for its good parts, I am supposed to accept a conference report that has the bad parts of the package even though the good parts have been stripped out.
That is just nonsense, and every member of this chamber who has ever agreed to a compromise - and I must assume that includes every single one of us - knows it.
The other point I want to emphasize here is that the Senate bill was passed before the Post reported about the use of NSLs and the difficulties that the gag rule poses for businesses that feel they are being unfairly burdened by them. At the very least, I would think that a sunset of the NSL authorities would be justified to ensure that Congress has the opportunity to take a close look at such a broad power. But the conferees and the White House refused to make that change. Nor would they budge at all on the absurdly difficult standard of review, the so-called conclusive presumption; in fact, the White House insisted on repeating it in the context of judicial review of Section 215 gag orders.
This points out a real problem I have with the White House deal. In our letter in December, my colleagues and I, Democratic and Republican, complained about the unfair standard for judicial review of the gag order in connection to NSLs. So how can the supporters of this deal argue that applying that same standard to challenges to the gag rule for Section 215 orders is an improvement? A standard that was unacceptable in December has somehow miraculously been transformed into a meaningful concession. That is just spin Mr. President. It doesn't pass the laugh test.
I suspect, Mr. President, that the NSL power is something that the Administration is zealously guarding because it is one area where there is almost no judicial involvement or oversight. It is the last refuge for those who want virtually unlimited government power in intelligence investigations. And that is why the Congress should be very concerned, and very insistent on making the reasonable changes we have suggested.
Mr. President, I next want to address "sneak and peek" searches. This is another area where the conference report departs from the Senate's compromise language, another area where the White House deal makes no changes whatsoever, and another reason that I must oppose the conference report.
When we debated the Patriot Act in December, the senior Senator from Pennsylvania made what seems on the surface to be an appealing argument. He said that the Senate bill requires notice of a sneak and peek search within 7 days of the search, and the House said 180 days. The conference compromised on 30 days. "That's a good result," he says. "They came down 150 days, we went up only 23. What's wrong with that?"
Let me take a little time to put this issue in context and explain why this isn't just a numbers game - an important constitutional right is at stake.
One of the most fundamental protections in the Bill of Rights is the Fourth Amendment's guarantee that all citizens have the right to "be secure in their persons, houses, papers, and effects" against "unreasonable searches and seizures." The idea that the government cannot enter our homes improperly is a bedrock principle for Americans, and rightly so. The Fourth Amendment has a rich history and includes in its ambit some very important requirements for searches. One is the requirement that a search be conducted pursuant to a warrant. The Constitution specifically requires that a warrant for a search be issued only where there is probable cause and that the warrant specifically describe the place to be searched and the persons or things to be seized.
Why does the Constitution require that particular description? Well, for one thing, that description becomes a limit on what can be searched or what can be seized. If the magistrate approves a warrant to search someone's home and the police show up at the person's business, that search is not valid. If the warrant authorizes a search at a particular address, and the police take it next door, they have no right to enter that house. But of course, there is no opportunity to point out that the warrant is inadequate unless that warrant is handed to someone at the premises. If there is no one present to receive the warrant, and the search must be carried out immediately, most warrants require that they be left behind at the premises that were searched. Notice of the search is part of the standard Fourth Amendment protection. It's what gives meaning, or maybe we should say "teeth," to the Constitution's requirement of a warrant and a particular description of the place to be searched and the persons or items to be seized.
Over the years, the courts have had to deal with government claims that the circumstances of a particular investigation require a search without notifying the target prior to carrying out the search. In some cases, giving notice would compromise the success of the search by leading to the flight of the suspect or the destruction of evidence. The two leading cases on so-called surreptitious entry, or what have come to be known as "sneak and peek" searches, came to very similar conclusions. Notice of criminal search warrants could be delayed, but not omitted entirely. Both the Second Circuit in US v. Villegas and the Ninth Circuit in US v. Freitas held that a sneak and peek warrant must provide that notice of the search will be given within seven days, unless extended by the court. Listen to what the Freitas court said about such searches:
We take this position because surreptitious searches and seizures of intangibles strike at the very heart of the interests protected by the Fourth Amendment. The mere thought of strangers walking through and visually examining the center of our privacy interest, our home, arouses our passion for freedom as does nothing else. That passion, the true source of the Fourth Amendment, demands that surreptitious entries be closely circumscribed.
So when defenders of the Patriot Act say that sneak and peek searches were commonly approved by courts prior to the Patriot Act, they are partially correct. Some courts permitted secret searches in very limited circumstances, but they also recognized the need for prompt notice after the search unless a reason to continue to delay notice was demonstrated. And they specifically said that notice had to occur within seven days.
Section 213 of the Patriot Act didn't get this part of the balance right. It allowed notice to be delayed for any reasonable length of time. Information provided by the Administration about the use of this provision indicates that delays of months at a time are now becoming commonplace. Those are hardly the kind of delays that the courts had been allowing prior to the Patriot Act.
The sneak and peek power in the Patriot Act caused concern right from the start. And not just because of the lack of a time-limited notice requirement. The Patriot Act also broadened the justifications that the government could give in order to obtain a sneak and peek warrant. It included what came to be known as the "catch-all" provision, which allows the government to avoid giving notice of a search if it would "seriously jeopardize an investigation." Some think that that justification in some ways swallows the requirement of notice since most investigators would prefer not to give notice of a search and can easily argue that giving notice will hurt the investigation.
Critics of the sneak and peek provision worked to fix both of the problems when they introduced the SAFE Act.
First, in that bill, we tightened the standard for justifying a sneak and peek search to a limited set of circumstances - when advance notice would endanger life or property, or result in flight from prosecution, the intimidation of witnesses, or the destruction of evidence. Second, we required notice within seven days, with an unlimited number of 21-day extensions if approved by the court.
The Senate bill was a compromise. It kept the catch-all provision as a justification for obtaining a sneak and peek warrant. Those of us who were concerned about that provision agreed to accept it in return for getting the seven-day notice requirement. And we accepted unlimited extensions of up to 90 days at a time. The key thing was prompt notice after the fact, or a court order that continuing to delay notice was justified.
So that's the background to the numbers game that the Senator from Pennsylvania and other supporters of the conference report point to. They want credit for walking the House back from its outrageous position of 180 days, but they refuse to recognize that the sneak and peek provision still has the catch-all justification, and unlimited 90-day extensions.
And here is the crucial question that they refuse to answer. What possible rationale is there for not requiring the government to go back to a court within seven days and demonstrate a need for continued secrecy? Why insist that the government get thirty days free without getting an extension? Could it be that they think that the courts usually won't agree that continued secrecy is needed after the search is conducted, so they won't get the 90-day extension? If they have to go back to a court at some point, why not go back after seven days rather than 30? From the point of view of the government, I don't see the big deal. But from the point of view of someone whose house has been secretly searched, there is a big difference between one week and a month.
Suppose, for example, that the government actually searched the wrong house - as I mentioned, that's one of the reasons that notice is a Fourth Amendment requirement. The innocent owner of the place that had been searched might suspect that someone had broken in, might be living in fear that someone has a key or some other way to enter. Should we make that person wait a month to get an explanation rather than a week? Presumably, if the search revealed nothing, and especially if the government realized the mistake and does not intend to apply for an extension, it will be no hardship, other than embarrassment, for notice to be given within seven days.
So Mr. President, that is why I'm not persuaded by the numbers game. The Senate bill was already a compromise on this very controversial provision. And there is no good reason not to adopt the Senate's provision. I have pointed this out repeatedly, and no one has ever come forward and explained why the government can't come back to the court within seven days of executing the search. Instead, they let the House get away with a negotiating tactic - by starting with 180 days, they can argue that 30 days is a big concession. But it wasn't.
Let me put it to you this way: If the House had passed a provision that allowed for notice to be delayed for 1,000 days, would anyone be boasting about a compromise that requires notice within 100 days, more than three months?
Would that be a persuasive argument? I don't think so. The House provision of 180 days was arguably worse than current law, which required notice "within a reasonable time," because it creates a presumption that delaying notice for 180 days, six months, is reasonable. It was a bargaining ploy. The Senate version was what the courts had required prior to the Patriot Act. And it was itself a compromise because it leaves in place the catch-all provision for justifying the warrant in the first place. That is why I believe the conference report on the sneak and peek provision is inadequate and must be opposed. And the fact that this so-called deal with the White House does not address this issue is yet another reason why I see no reason why I, or anyone, should change their position on this.
Let me make one final point about sneak and peek warrants. Don't be fooled for a minute into believing that this power is needed to investigate terrorism or espionage. It's not. Section 213 is a criminal provision that applies in whatever kinds of criminal investigations the government has undertaken. In fact, most sneak and peek warrants are issued for drug investigations. So why do I say that they aren't needed in terrorism investigations? Because FISA also can apply to those investigations. And FISA search warrants are always executed in secret, and never require notice. If you really don't want to give notice of a search in a terrorism investigation, you can get a FISA warrant. So any argument that limiting the sneak and peek power as we have proposed will interfere with sensitive terrorism investigations is a red herring.
Mr. President, I have spoken at some length about the provisions of this conference report that trouble me, and the ways in which the deal struck with the White House does not address those problems with the conference report. But to be fair, I should mention one aspect of the conference report that was better than a draft that circulated prior to the final signing of that report. The conference report includes four-year sunsets on three of the most controversial provisions: roving wiretaps, the so-called "library" provision, and the "lone wolf" provision of the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act. Previously, the sunsets on these provisions were at seven years, and it is certainly an improvement to have reduced that number so that Congress can take another look at those provisions sooner.
I also want to acknowledge that the conference report creates new reporting requirements for some Patriot Act powers, including new reporting on roving wiretaps, Section 215, "sneak and peek" search warrants, and National Security Letters. There are also new requirements that the Inspector General of the Department of Justice conduct audits of the government's use of National Security Letters and Section 215. In addition, the conference report includes some other useful oversight provisions relating to FISA. It requires that Congress be informed about the FISA Court's rules and procedures and about the use of emergency authorities under FISA, and gives the Senate Judiciary Committee access to certain FISA reporting that currently only goes to the Intelligence Committee. I'm also glad to see that it requires the Department of Justice to report to us on its data mining activities.
But, Mr. President, adding sunsets and new reporting and oversight requirements only gets you so far. The conference report, as it would be modified by S. 2271, remains deeply flawed. I appreciate sunsets and reporting, and I know that the senior Senator from Pennsylvania worked hard to ensure they were included, but these improvements are not enough. Sunsetting bad law in another four years is not good enough. Simply requiring reporting on the government's use of these overly expansive tools does not ensure that they won't be abused. We must make substantive changes to the law, not just improve oversight. This is our chance, and we cannot let it pass by.
Mr. President, trust of government cannot be demanded, or asserted, or assumed; it must be earned. And this Administration has not earned our trust. It has fought reasonable safeguards for constitutional freedoms every step of the way. It has resisted congressional oversight and often misled the public about its use of the Patriot Act. We know now that it has even authorized illegal wiretaps and is making misleading legal arguments to try to justify them. We sunsetted 16 provisions of the original Patriot Act precisely so we could revisit them and make necessary changes - to make improvements based on the experience of four years with the Act, and with the careful deliberation and debate that, quite frankly, was missing four years ago. Well, Mr. President, this process of reauthorization has certainly generated debate, but if we pass the conference report, even with the few White House modifications, we will have wasted a lot of time and missed our opportunity to finally get it right.
The American people will not be happy with us for missing that chance. They will not accept our explanation that we decided to wait another four years before really addressing their concerns. It appears that is now an inevitable outcome. But I am prepared to keep fighting for as long as it takes to get this right. For now, I urge my colleagues to oppose the motion to proceed to this legislation to implement the White House deal. We can do better than these minor cosmetic changes.
I yield the floor.