Speeches and Floor Statements
Statement of Congressman Chris Van Hollen on the Conference Report of the Patriot Act
Mr. Chairman, I rise to explain my decision to vote against the Conference Report on the Patriot Act. Some of the provisions that are being reauthorized in this bill provide law enforcement officials with important tools that may be helpful in detecting and disrupting terrorist activities. I support those provisions. Other provisions, however, fail to provide adequate safeguards to ensure that the privacy rights of innocent citizens are protected. It is very important that, in our effort to defend the liberties that Americans cherish, we not enact measures that erode the very freedoms we seek to protect. We can ensure that the government has the necessary surveillance powers without sacrificing the privacy rights of Americans.
The Conference Report falls short in a number of areas. Let me focus on two of these issues---the inadequate checks on the National Security Letters and the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act court orders.
The “National Security Letters” provision:
It provides no judicial review of a National Security Letter gag order. This is a departure from current law which allows the recipient of such a Letter to challenge it in court. The conference agreement requires the court to accept the government’s assertion as “conclusive.”
Moreover, the conference report allows the government to maintain information gathered from the National Security Letters to be kept forever in government databases.
“Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act” (FISA) Court Orders for Tangible Things (Section 215):
Unlike the Senate bill, the Conference Report allows the government to obtain personal information on a mere showing of “relevance,” thereby striking the safeguard contained in the Senate passed bill that required a three-part test. This allows the government to obtain this information without demonstrating that the information that they are seeking has some connection to a terrorist or a spy.
The 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 of the Constitution.
Finally, the conference report allows the government to use secret evidence to oppose a judicial challenge to a section 215 order. The court must review any government submission in secret, whether or not it contains classified material.