Meaningful Review of Most Egregious Provisions Eliminated
Last week, the U.S. House of Representatives passed H.R. 3199, the “USA PATRIOT Act and Terrorism Prevention Reauthorization Act” by a vote of 257-171. Despite calls by legislators and Americans across the country to balance national security and civil liberties in the original legislation, House Republicans denied a fair, open and honest debate to address these concerns, and blocked many reform amendments.
“It’s a shame that instead of addressing the civil liberties and privacy concerns raised by individuals and groups across the political spectrum, the House of Representatives has decided to make many of the most egregious provisions permanent while blocking amendments that could improve national security,” said Ralph G. Neas, President of People For the American Way. “We urge the Senate to encourage a fair process and an open debate of the issues at stake. As Americans and citizens of the world, we know all too well the danger of terrorism, but continuing to threaten our civil liberties will not make us safer.”
Neas said the Act extends and makes permanent many of the most troubling provisions of the USA PATRIOT Act. In addition, the Act:
- Sets a dangerously inadequate and substandard level of proof requirement, enabling law enforcement to obtain potentially overreaching court orders for records or information that might pertain to foreign intelligence investigations
- Fails to address concerns about roving wiretaps – that could intercept individuals’ private and personal conversations
- Does not address judicial review standards within the USA PATRIOT Act that at best are unclear and at worst undercut many existing federal laws
- Overreaches federal laws already in effect that prohibit acts of civil disobedience. Alarmingly, under the USA PATRIOT Act, displays of civil disobedience could be considered “domestic terrorism.”
One telling aspect of the debate was the House Rules Committee’s decision to amend the Act to include chewing tobacco in rules against cigarette smuggling, while denying votes on serious, substantive amendments supported by civil rights and civil liberties organizations. Even as we witness more terrorist bombings taking place in London, the Committee blocked an amendment to provide grants to improve rail security and emergency response to terrorist attacks on the rail system.
Further action on the USA PATRIOT Act reauthorization is expected in the Senate in the coming weeks.