Press Releases

U.S. Representative Adam Smith Votes Against Flawed Patriot Act Conference Report

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Washington, Dec 14, 2005 | comments

Today, U.S. Representative Adam Smith (D-WA) made the following statement on his vote against the Patriot Act Conference Report:

“Four years ago, I joined with my colleagues in voting for the Patriot Act. The United States had just suffered a catastrophic event at the hands of terrorists and we were in an emergency situation. Almost unanimously, Congress passed the Patriot Act to ensure that our law enforcement officials had the tools they needed to combat terrorism. Over the past four years, we have been able to more fully review the Patriot Act and determine which parts need to be re-worked to preserve and fully protect, not erode, our rights and liberties.

Let me be clear that I support reauthorizing the Patriot Act, but I cannot support the deeply flawed version of the conference report that was before the House today.  Had a few changes been made to this bill – some of which are outlined below – I believe that a broad, bipartisan group of representatives could have supported this important bill. However, conferees chose to ignore important recommendations from Republican and Democratic Members alike and instead crafted a bill that undermines key civil liberties. I sincerely regret that the conferees did not make a more full and rigorous effort in this regard.

The Patriot Act expanded the circumstances under which the federal government can obtain a warrant to search or otherwise gather information about people in this country. Specifically, the conference report continues to allow law enforcement officials to access information, such as library and bookstore records, from any business or individual holding them. This can be done as long as the officials assert, through a “statement of facts” that the records are “relevant” to an investigation. But there is no standard of relevancy included in the bill. Also, the conference report continues to allow federal authorities to use “national security letters” to request customer records from communications companies and financial institutions for an investigation, whether or not the investigations pertain to a foreign power or agent.

I believe that for many of the intrusive provisions in the original Patriot Act, including Sections 215 and 505, a federal agent should be required to show specific and demonstratable facts that the records or information being sought in foreign intelligence investigations are relevant to a suspected terrorist, spy or other foreign agent before he or she can obtain a court order for those records.  This bill failed to meet this standard.

Another area of concern for me is under Section 206 of the Patriot Act that involves roving wiretaps. I am a strong believer that wiretaps in terrorist investigations should be held to the same standard as in a criminal wiretap where under existing federal laws, the time for interception is limited to a specific period of time where it is reasonable to assume that the target of the probe has used the instrument under wiretap surveillance. This is an important step in limiting the interception of innocent persons’ communications.

The majority party in the House also had the audacity to attach important methamphetamine legislation to the conference report. There is a vast methamphetamine epidemic raging in many states, including Washington, and attaching this legislation to the unrelated Patriot Act conference report politicizes the issue of our national security. This is politics at its worst.  I support the methamphetamine legislation. I was a co-sponsor of this legislation and it was my hope that we could have passed this bi-partisan bill with a separate vote and a full debate. But I could not vote for the Patriot Act – and in doing so threaten the rights of many Americans – simply because the Republican leadership cynically added to it the methamphetamine bill.

We must provide our law enforcement officials with the necessary tools they need to combat terrorism, and I believe we can do so while also protecting our important civil rights.  Sadly, this goal was not met by the conference report of the Patriot Act.  There is no guarantee that the Patriot Act, in its present form, will prevent abuses of our freedoms. For this reason, among others, I chose to vote against the Conference Report and the reauthorization of the Patriot Act.”

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