Idaho Examiner - Sen. Larry Craig News Releases

Friday, August 05, 2005

A State of Patriots

by Senator Larry Craig

Now that August recess has begun, and I’ve had a chance to get back home to Idaho, I have been able to reflect on the flurry of events on the Senate floor leading up to the break. I couldn’t help but think of the famous line from the move “Forrest Gump”. Forrest reminisced that his mother used to tell him “Life is like a box of chocolates. You never know what you’re gonna get.” In a week full of surprises, I felt that way too.

While much of the focus in Congress and in the media fell on legislation like the Energy Bill, the Gun Liability Bill, the Highway Bill and some of the appropriations bills, reauthorization of the USA PATRIOT Act coasted through the Senate with hardly any notice.

I’m sure that some may be critical of the swift manner in which PATRIOT reauthorization (S.1389) was approved by the Senate, hoping it would be debated extensively on the Senate floor. Instead, it passed unopposed. I want Idahoans to know that I seriously considered objecting to the unanimous consent request to approve the bill. In the end, I decided not to do that. Let me explain why.

As you may know, I was the original sponsor of legislation called the Security and Freedom Enhancement (SAFE) Act. The SAFE Act was designed to amend the PATRIOT Act to protect civil liberties and place reasonable limitations on the federal government’s use of surveillance and the issuance of search warrants, without impeding the war on terrorism, and it garnered support from a wide variety of senators.

In fact, Senate Judiciary Chairman Arlen Specter was a cosponsor of the SAFE Act in the 107th Congress. In the past several months he spent crafting the PATRIOT reauthorization bill, Chairman Specter managed to work several of the SAFE Act’s principles into the Senate Judiciary Committee’s verson of PATRIOT reauthorization.

This took a great effort to accomplish in the face of strong sentiment to simply renew and expand PATRIOT. It’s worth noting that the House version of S.1389 did not contain any of the SAFE Act provisions. Senator Specter understood that including parts of the SAFE Act would virtually guarantee a conflict with the House on this issue, and these differences must be worked out in a conference of Senate and House members.

In the end, the bill approved by the Senate was not perfect. But it did include language to protect the privacy of innocent Americans by requiring the government to convince a judge that a person is connected to terrorism or espionage before obtaining their library records, medical records or other sensitive personal information.

It would also protect innocent Americans from covert surveillance by prohibiting “John Doe” roving wiretaps, which do not identify the person or the phone to be wiretapped. The bill would require the government to describe the target of a roving wiretap with particularity. Furthermore, government would not be able to wait more than seven days before providing notice of a search, unless a court finds that the facts of the case justify a later date.

Had I objected to the unanimous consent request to approve S.1389, it would have been subjected to a lengthy floor battle, in which it was very likely that the good things in the bill would have been stripped out. Allowing it to pass in this way ensured that it included some, rather than none, of the reforms I wanted.

If Idahoans hadn’t raised their concerns with me and the rest of the Idaho Congressional Delegation regarding the PATRIOT Act several years ago, it’s likely that no changes would have been made to the law when it came time for reauthorization. Should any of the Senate’s provisions remain intact in conference, the watchfulness and contributions of the citizens of Idaho could benefit the entire nation with a better law.

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