On Tuesday, Attorney General Alberto Gonzales and FBI Director Robert Mueller said the reason times are so different is because of measures taken to secure the nation. They strongly argued in favor of renewing all provisions of the act, saying it is integral to fighting the War on Terror and “crucial to national security.”
“Al Qaeda and other groups remain a grave threat to our country, and now is not the time for us to relinquish our tools in that fight,” Gonzales told the Senate Judiciary Committee.
He also asked Congress to expand the FBI’s administrative subpoena powers, which allow the bureau to obtain records without approval or a judge or grand jury.
One section of the law that Gonzales suggested might be ready for revision is that which allows federal agents, in the context of terrorism investigations, to seize items like business records, including those from libraries and bookstores. The section is called the “library provision” by its critics though it does not specifically mention tracking reading habits of Americans who frequent libraries or bookstores. The section of the law permits secret warrants for “books, records, papers, documents and other items” from businesses, hospitals and other organizations.
Gonzales told lawmakers Tuesday the provision has been used 35 times, but never to obtain library, bookstore, medical or gun sale records, only for drivers’ license, credit card, apartment lease and similar records like subscriber information on phone numbers picked up during taps and traces. He said he would support clarifying the law to make clear that the request only pertains to national security investigations and the recipient of a court order may consult with an attorney and challenge the order in court.
Also at issue are the so-called “sneak and peek” provisions of the law that allow federal agents to enter private homes secretly and search for evidence without immediately telling the resident they’ve been there. Before the Patriot Act was passed, those delayed-notice warrants were previously reserved for mafia activity and drug trafficking cases.
While getting the warrant means obtaining a court order and the provision is not actually expiring, Sen. Dianne Feinstein, D-Calif., asked Gonzales to determine if the delayed-notice warrant has ever been used illegally.
While Gonzales defended the Patriot Act, saying it has helped secure more than 200 guilty pleas or convictions in terror-related crimes, two lawmakers, Sens. Larry Craig, R-Idaho, and Dick Durbin, D-Ill., were reintroducing legislation designed to curb some of the provisions discussed during the hearing.
It may surprise you folks to know I am not a big fan of the patriot act. I do not believe in giving more power to the government. I believe in empowering the people. The more power you give the government the more power ââÅwe the peopleââ? loose. It is our country, it is our government, it is our power, and we have to start thinking about it this way. Benjamin Franklin said: ââÅwe have given you a republic; now we will see if you can keep it.