Jim's Weekly Column
Combating Abuse of Patriot Act
Throughout my 35 years in Congress, I have fought against the expansion of government and its encroachment into the everyday lives of Americans.
The attacks on September 11th demonstrated that the threats of the 21st century require our national security professionals to possess proactive methods of investigation, ensuring we stay several steps ahead of those who wish us harm. As Chairman of the House Judiciary Committee at the time, I was tasked with passing legislation that defends our national security while protecting American civil liberties.
With this balancing act in mind, the Patriot Act was drafted and passed by the House Judiciary Committee with broad bipartisan support – including Section 215, the so-called business records provision.
Earlier this month, the Guardian reported on the Obama Administration’s dragnet collection of phone data with rubberstamp approval by a Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act (FISA) court. The scope of the NSA’s metadata program – peering into the lives of hundreds of millions of innocent Americans – is incredibly troubling. There is no legitimate explanation for tracking the numbers, locations, times and duration of the calls of every American.The collection and retention of all telephone records coming in and out of the United States is excessive and does not fall within the guidelines of Section 215.
I stand by the Patriot Act and support the specific targeting of terrorists by our government. However, in this instance, the proper balance has not been struck between civil rights and American security.
Recently, I have gone on record seeking to illustrate the large gap between the intention of the Patriot Act and the implementation of Section 215 by the FISA court and the Administration.
This provision is vital and should be amended to prevent future abuses so it is not allowed to sunset in 2015. In the weeks and months ahead, I will work with my colleagues to revise it – narrowing its scope and enhancing judicial and congressional oversight.
Last Thursday, FBI Director Robert Mueller testified before the House Judiciary Committee. I devoted my allotted time to discussing the lack of privacy protections implemented for national security investigations.
I commend Director Mueller for his twelve years of service. But his example of how the NSA’s ongoing phone surveillance program is instrumental to catching terrorists is not relevant to my concerns of abuse. He explained that phone records could have been used to locate Khalid al-Mihdhar, one of the 9/11 hijackers. In this instance, al-Mihdhar was already the subject of an ongoing terrorism investigation and was in contact with a known terrorist safe house in Yemen. Targeted surveillance of terrorists – not innocent Americans – is permissible.
As Senator and while campaigning for president, Barack Obama promised to protect civil liberties, but his rhetoric does not match up with the facts.
Mueller, who has served as FBI Director under both Bush and Obama, could not point out one instance where Obama has taken action to enhance privacy protections.
Former Chairman of the House Intelligence Committee Pete Hoekstra told the Washington Times, “On some of this stuff, this is really Bush on steroids. As a senator, Obama became a very harsh critic. He became president, and he took what I thought was an effective tool and put it on steroids.”
We entrust the quiet professionals of the intelligence community with defending our security and our rights. This executive overreach is unacceptable and further denigrates Americans’ trust in Washington.
A large, intrusive government – however benevolent it claims to be – is not immune from the simple truth that centralized power threatens liberty. Our government’s legitimacy rests on its accountability to the people. And Americans are increasingly weary that Washington is invading the privacy rights guaranteed to us by the Fourth Amendment.