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Conyers: Patriot Act Extension is Too Flawed, Too Intrusive, and Too Over-reaching

Washington, DC, February 8, 2011

Today, House Judiciary Ranking Member John Conyers, Jr. (D-Mich.) rose on the House Floor in opposition to H.R. 514 which would extend, until December 8, 2011, the three expiring provisions of the USA Patriot Act.  H.R. 514 is being considered today for House passage, without any hearings, markups, nor the opportunity for amendments that would have allowed for necessary bipartisan reform measures to be enacted.

Last Congress, after holding several hearings and a two-day markup, Mr. Conyers led the House Judiciary Committee to report a revised version of the Patriot Act that included real reform.

Below is the Floor speech Mr. Conyers delivered today:

I rise in opposition to this measure.

The bill’s provisions would authorize extraordinarily intrusive acts by the executive branch. They are part and parcel of the broader Patriot Act regime that was put in place by the Congress in 2001 – one of the worst laws this body has ever passed.

The problems with the Patriot Act and the way it was passed into law are well known. I won’t go through them all now, but I would ask unanimous consent to introduce into the record the materials that analyze these provisions and document their many constitutional and other flaws.

These are very significant provisions that authorize extraordinarily intrusive acts by the executive branch.

The proposed extension before us today makes no such improvements in the law. It has appeared on the floor just a few legislative days after introduction, with no hearings of any kind. There has been no markup. On the floor today, there is no opportunity for amendment, which would have allowed consideration of the bipartisan reform measures we considered in committee last time around.

That is no way to handle significant legislation like this – especially given the extraordinary national security and civil liberties implications of the powers granted to the executive by this law. In the last Congress, we held a public hearing – and critical classified hearing – and then marked up the bill over a full two days before considering any extension.

Furthermore, rather than improve this law, HR 514  punts the issue until the opening rounds of the presidential primary season. In my opinion, this matter needs less politics, not more, and this approach is a terrible mistake. We should not pass a bill that will ensure our next consideration of these issues is forced through the lens of presidential politics and a national election campaign.

In sum, I cannot support this extension and I urge my colleagues to vote no. This law is too flawed, too intrusive, and too over-reaching. And members – especially new members – should not be asked to vote on authorities of this gravity without any reasonable process or opportunity to understand both the public and the classified issues that it raises.

Beyond all this, for those who feel a yes vote is necessary because this is a national security bill, I further point out that the administration’s intelligence and law enforcement chiefs – who desperately want re-authorization of these authorities – also criticize the approach in the bill before us today.

In a remarkable letter to the bipartisan, bicameral leaders of Congress, they warn that repeated short term extensions – quote – “increase the uncertainties borne by our intelligence and law enforcement agencies in carrying out their missions.”

The administration has also gone ahead and implemented certain protections and oversight mechanisms that the reform bills of the last Congress would have enacted. I appreciate this positive step and ask unanimous consent that the January 28, 2011, letter from the director of National Intelligence and the attorney general to the bicameral leadership of Congress be entered into the record, and that the December 9 letter from the Attorney General to Chairman Leahy be entered into the record.

Among these reviews, at this time, the Justice Department’s Inspector General’s office is looking at the use of Section 215 authorities.  That review will not be complete before the December deadline set by this bill, however. For these reasons, too, I must oppose this bill. I cannot support the precipitous extension before us today that will require us to vote again before all the facts are in. And I cannot support a short term extension that does not meet the needs of either the intelligence community, the law enforcement community, or the civil liberties community.

I urge all members to vote no on HR 514.