Conference Committee Signs Off on Flawed PATRIOT Act behind Closed Doors

Legislation threatens individual liberty, undermines checks on abuse, says Neas

Republican House and Senate negotiators struck a deal on Wednesday to renew the expiring PATRIOT Act while failing to provide the meaningful checks and balances necessary to protect our civil liberties.

Statement by People For the American Way President Ralph G. Neas:

“This legislation resulted from a flawed, undemocratic process. While positive steps had been under consideration, Democrats were excluded from meaningful input during last-minute negotiations where many of the modest reforms contained in the bipartisan Senate version were removed. Conference members negotiated away civil liberties behind closed doors, including the removal of four-year sunsets on some of the legislation’s most egregious provisions. Those were replaced in secret with seven-year sunsets, a slap in the face to Senators and House members, as both chambers unequivocally supported requirements to revisit these controversial provisions in four years.

“Also left unaddressed in the committee report is the unchecked use of National Security Letters to investigate American citizens—even if those citizens are not suspected of involvement in illegal activity. As the Washington Post recently reported, the Justice Department now issues over 30,000 National Security Letters a year. The National Security Letter provision should send chills down the spine of every American who wants to remain independent of Big Brother’s watchful gaze.

“The bipartisan Senate version of this bill, though still failing to address some serious civil liberty concerns, contained some meaningful reforms that were stripped out during this conference. The conference report ignored the Senate reforms on section 213 ‘sneak and peek’ provision, allowing for the possibility of an unlimited delay in notifying individuals that their private property has been searched by the government. The Senate version addressing section 215, which was also ignored in the conference report, would have mandated judicial oversight when authorities exercised powers to search the financial, medical, library, school and other records. But the conferees, apparently not interested in even modest checks on government’s ability to infringe on individual liberty, removed this oversight requirement. As a result, we strongly urge members of Congress to vote no on the conference report in its current form.”

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