In 2001, I voted in favor of the Patriot Act. At that time our nation was dangerously unprepared for the threat of terrorist attacks and the Patriot Act was needed to ready our local and federal law enforcement agencies for their new responsibilities on the frontlines of the War on Terror.
Among the most controversial provisions in the Patriot Act was its granting federal and local law enforcement agencies the temporary ability to access e-mail and Internet records, authorize wiretaps, and share foreign intelligence.
Throughout our history, the government has been granted the temporary authority to conduct investigations outside the perimeters of the law during times of crisis. I believed then and I continue to believe the September 11, 2001 attacks certainly met that historical standard.
Yesterday, the House sought to make 14 of the 16 temporary provisions in the Patriot Act permanent. This legislation is unprecedented, as every time the government has granted emergency authority upon law enforcement agencies it has been temporary and eventually allowed to expire as conditions or situations warranted. In fact, provisions in original Patriot Act are set to expire on December 31, 2005.
After careful thought and deliberation, I voted against this legislation, as I firmly believe these provisions should continue to be temporary. Congress should make the decision when these provisions should be allowed to expire. Today's action by the House seriously undermines Congress' authority to set emergency guidelines during national security crises and revoke such measures during times of peace.
In fact, Congressional actions are rarely made permanent. For example, the House will soon take up the reauthorizations of important legislation such as the Higher Education Act and the Violence Against Women Act. We allow these laws to expire in order to improve them with the times. By letting certain provisions of the Patriot Act to become permanent, we make it increasingly difficult to improve upon the law in coming years.
We do not know the future challenges the War on Terror will present. The terrorists who declared war on America and its allies have proven to be resourceful and innovative when it comes to murdering innocent people. Our laws should be adaptable, in order to respond to the unpredictability of our enemies. And when we are victorious in the War on Terror, these provisions must be allowed to subside.
While I strongly disagree with making certain provisions permanent, the Patriot Act has proven to be an effective law enforcement tool during the War on Terror.
The Patriot Act has improved communications between local and federal law enforcement agencies and made it easier for them to share evidence and leads in criminal investigations of suspected terrorists. According to the 9/11 Commission, poor or non-existent communication between law enforcement agencies was among the reasons the planning and execution of the September 11, 2001 terrorist attacks went largely unnoticed by authorities.
The Patriot Act has also strengthened our money laundering laws, making it difficult for individuals to finance terrorist organizations, particularly those involving overseas activities.
It is important to remember that yesterday's action by the House is only the first step in a long legislative process. I am hopeful the U.S. Senate will include sunset clauses in their version of the Patriot Act Reauthorization and that these provisions will be in the final version of the bill Congress sends to President Bush.