Pelosi Statement on Extension of USA Patriot Act

Jul 21, 2005
Press Release

Pelosi Statement on Extension of USA Patriot Act

Thursday, July 21, 2005

Contact: Brendan Daly/Jennifer Crider, 202-226-7616

Washington, D.C. â€" House Democratic Leader Nancy Pelosi spoke today on the House floor in opposition to a Republican bill that would extend certain provisions of the USA Patriot Act.  Below are her remarks:

“We have a duty to protect the American people from terrorism, but also to protect law-abiding American citizens from unaccountable and unchallengeable government power over their personal lives, their personal records, and their thoughts.  Because I believe this bill fails to meet these objectives, I will oppose it today with the hope that there will be an improved bill coming from the conference committee.”

“Mr. Speaker, I join each and every one of our colleagues in expressing our admiration for the people of Great Britain for their strength and their courage in facing these terrorist attacks.  Together, our two great nations will defeat terrorism, and we will do so by pursuing real security measures and by providing law enforcement the tools they need. 

“Our first responsibility to the American people is to provide for the common defense, to protect and defend the American people.  In doing so, we must also protect and defend the Constitution.  We must pursue real security measures that prevent terrorism.  We must make a strong commitment to homeland security and we cannot, because of any negligence in terms of protecting the American people, in terms of homeland security, take it out on their civil liberties.

“Our Founding Fathers, in their great wisdom, understood the balance between security and liberty.  They lived at a time when security was all about homeland security.  The war was fought on our shores and continued until the War of 1812.  And so they knew that in order to have a democracy, to have freedom, to have liberty, and to ensure it, you had to create that balance. 

“Today, we consider a bill to extend certain provisions of the USA Patriot Act.  I want to add my voice to those who have made it clear to this body that the Patriot Act is the law of the land; 90 percent of it is in the law.  About 10 percent of it, 16 provisions, are what we are considering today.  They are the provisions that were considered controversial four years ago when the bill was passed.  And because they were controversial, in a bipartisan way, these provisions were sunsetted.  There was a limit to how long they would be in effect.   

“I supported the bill four years ago because of these sunset provisions and because of the rigorous oversight that was promised.  We have not seen that oversight.  It simply hasn’t happened in an effective way, and today there is an attempt on the part of the Republicans to eliminate the sunset of 14 of the 16 provisions, and on the two remaining provisions have a sunset of 10 years.  That’s a long day when you are curtailing the civil liberties of the American people. 

“I listened intently to the gentleman from Virginia, Mr. Boucher, when he described in detail the serious constitutional issues concerning Section 505, National Security Letter orders, by which the government possesses power to seize citizens’ medical and other personal records without notice, without the ability to challenge these orders, and without meaningful time limitations.   And for this reason, I will join Mr. Boucher in opposing this legislation, but with the hope that it will be improved in conference.  Then, when it comes back to this body, we will all be able to support a Patriot Act extension that protects the American people and gives law enforcement the tools they need without seriously curtailing the privacy and civil liberties of the American people.

“Most importantly, the bill before us fails to ensure accountability.  Again, when Congress voted for this four years ago, Members clearly understood that it would be accompanied by strong congressional oversight so that the implementation would not violate our civil liberties.  In fact, the Attorney General has admitted that the information on its use of the Patriot Act has not been forthcoming to the Congress in a timely manner.  If not for the sunset provisions, there is no doubt that Congress would not even receive the insufficient information we has received to date.

“Today, we are deciding whether the government will be accountable to the people, to the Congress, and to the courts for the exercise of its power.  It is about whether broad surveillance powers that intrude on Americans’ privacy rights contain safeguards and actually ‘materially enhance’ security to target terrorists and those who wish to harm the United States â€" not needlessly intrude on the Constitutional rights of innocent and law-abiding American citizens. 

“Unfortunately, Republicans refused to permit amendments that would have extended the sunset by four years and created sunsets to the National Security Letters provision to ensure that these provisions would never be abused.  Perhaps they thought these amendments would be too appealing to the many Members of this House on the Republican side who are strong supporters of privacy rights for the American people, and they did not want these amendments to pass.  For whatever reason, the American people are not well served by not having as open a debate with the opportunity for the sunset provision to be considered.  These amendments should be considered at a minimum as part of any effort to improve the Patriot Act and this bill.

“As USA Today said in an editorial today:  ‘Congress has an opportunity to….ensure [that these provisions] remain temporary â€" the best way to monitor the law’s use and keep law enforcement accountable.’

“We have a duty to protect the American people from terrorism, but also to protect law-abiding American citizens from unaccountable and unchallengeable government power over their personal lives, their personal records, and their thoughts.  Because I believe this bill fails to meet these objectives, I will oppose it today with the hope that there will be an improved bill coming from the conference committee.

“Our Founding Fathers left us with the ever-present challenge of finding the balance between security and liberty.  It is the story of America.  We must honor their legacy in however we vote today.   I would hope that even those that support the bill do so in the hope that it will come back a better bill from conference.  All Members should honor their oaths of office, and carry out their duty to protect and defend our nation, while protecting and defending our Constitution and our civil liberties.

“Again I remind my colleagues: the Patriot Act is the law.  The sunsetted provisions are what are being considered today.  The sunsets by and large have been removed or extended to such an extent that they do not even matter, and we can do better.  We have an obligation to do better for the American people.”