Dec 14, 2005

(Washington D.C.)- Today, U.S. Rep. Sander Levin submitted the following statement into the Congressional Record, commenting on his opposition to the USA Patriot Act:

Madam Speaker, there is no question that Congress must give law enforcement the tools it needs to prevent terrorist attacks against the American people.  When the Congress approved the PATRIOT Act 4 years ago, we recognized that the serious nature of the threat required giving law enforcement broad new powers to help prevent it.  There is also no question that the House and Senate should not allow the PATRIOT Act to expire on December 31.  Indeed, nearly all of the 166 provisions of the PATRIOT Act are already the permanent law of the land.

Four years ago, the Bush administration and the Leadership of the House rushed the original PATRIOT Act through the House without full debate or the chance to make improvements to the bill.  There is no need to rush an imperfect bill through the House today simply to accommodate a 6-week holiday recess.

While the conference report makes a number of improvements to the measure the House approved last summer, further improvement is needed.  In particular, I am disappointed that the bill before us does not include language to change how first-responder grants are allocated.  We need to make the formula risk-based.  Just last week, the bipartisan members of the former 9/11 Commission awarded Congress and the Bush administration a grade of F for our failure to distribute homeland security funds on the basis of risk.  The 9/11 Commission made this recommendation 17 months ago.  How can we continue to justify a first responder grant formula that awards Wyoming $37.94 per capita while Michigan--a key border State--receives just $7.87 per capita?  If we're not going to fix this problem now, then when will we make this change?

In a number of other areas, the Senate-passed version of the bill included key safeguards that were removed from the conference report.  In particular, the Senate bill contained important protections relating to the business and library records provisions of the Act that have been so controversial with our constituents.  The Senate-passed bill required the government to show that the records sought by the government have some connection to a suspected terrorist or spy.  The standard contained in the conference report is much weaker.  It would allow the government to compel the production of business or library records merely by showing that the records are ``relevant'' to a terrorism investigation.

In addition, unlike the Senate-passed bill, the conference report fails to protect the records of innocent Americans collected by means of National Security Letters.  The FBI now issues more than 30,000 national security letters a year to obtain consumer records from communications companies, financial institutions, and other companies.  These National Security Letters are issued without the approval of a judge and permanently bar recipients from telling anyone besides their lawyer that they have been served.  Unlike the Senate-passed bill, the conference report does not provide for meaningful judicial review of the National Security Letter nondisclosure requirement.  Under the bill before the House, the records collected under National Security Letters can be kept forever and even used for data-mining.  We need better privacy safeguards in this area.

I will vote against passage of this legislation today because I am convinced that we can write a better bill that safeguards both our vital security interests and basic American liberties.  To that end, I have cosponsored legislation that calls for a three-month extension of the current PATRIOT Act to give Congress additional time to perfect this legislation.  We should take the time we need to do the job right.