December 16, 2005
I appreciate the opportunity to answer questions about the USA PATRIOT Act at this critical time. The USA PATRIOT Act, passed by overwhelming majorities in the House and Senate shortly after the terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001, provided important authorities to law enforcement and national security investigators in their efforts to protect Americans. As many of you are no doubt aware, sixteen provisions in that Act, including those instrumental in breaking down the so-called "wall" between law enforcement and national security investigators, are set to expire on December 31, 2005, absent congressional action. The House has passed a strong reauthorization bill by a wide bipartisan majority. Unfortunately, a minority of Senators is blocking a vote on this bill, which reauthorizes all of the expiring provisions and includes dozens of new civil liberties safeguards.
Matthew, from Fairfield Ct
Hi. What's the Patriot Act?
The USA PATRIOT Act is a very important piece of legislation that Senators and Representatives came together to pass shortly after the horrific attacks of September 11, 2001. With this bill, Congress gave law enforcement (such as police officers and prosecutors) and national security investigators additional tools to protect Americans from harm. One thing the bill did was try to make sure that people going after terrorists and spies could use the same tools as people going after mobsters and drug dealers, which was not always the case before September 11. The bill also tried to make sure that the law was keeping up with the amazing changes in technology that have happened. The bill also tore down the so-called wall that prevented some FBI agents from sharing information with other FBI agents, even if they were all investigating Osama bin Laden. For the last four years, the USA PATRIOT Act has formed a cornerstone of this Administrations efforts to protect Americans and our civil liberties. We are proud of our record over the last four years.
Zachary, from Bountiful writes:
Some of the provisions of the Patriot act allow for blatant searches and
invasions of privacy. Does this administration believe in violating the
privacy of the nations citizens while the White House administration can
keep whatever it wants private for as long as it wants? It seems that
the Patriot act creates room for "big government" with NO oversight, the
opposite of the principles Pres. Bush was elected on.
The White House and this Administration are committed to protecting Americans and the civil liberties that we cherish. While the USA PATRIOT Act was instrumental in giving national security and law enforcement personnel new tools, these tools have always been accompanied by significant safeguards. For the vast majority of tools, there is congressional oversight, judicial involvement, and internal procedures designed to safeguard our liberties and prevent abuse. And these tools and safeguards have both worked. There has not been a terrorist attack on American soil since September 11, and there have been no verified abuses of any USA PATRIOT Act provision. Moreover, we support the reauthorization bill that the House has passed by a wide bipartisan majority, a bill that contains dozens of new civil liberties safeguards but is being filibustered by a minority of Senators.
Erick, from Texas writes:
Is the Patriot Act having any new ammendments added to it?
The House has passed, and the President supports, a USA PATRIOT Act reauthorization bill that reauthorizes all expiring provisions of the USA PATRIOT Act, gives us some new authorities such as laws safeguarding our mass transportation and railroad systems, and adds dozens of new civil liberties safeguards. However, a minority of Senators has refused to allow a vote on this bill, so we are facing a situation where not only would there be no new amendments or safeguards added, but sixteen provisions could stop having any effect on January, 1, 2006.
Dave, from Zablocki writes:
Do you think the Patriot Act infringes on some of the rights our
(US) forefathers designed for us to have?
The USA PATRIOT Act was instrumental in giving national security and law enforcement personnel new tools, and these tools are accompanied by significant civil liberties safeguards. We believe that each of the provisions of the Act comports with those rights enshrined in our Constitutionand we each take an oath to defend and preserve that Constitution and our rights. Many of the authorities simply gave to investigators following terrorists and spies the same time-honored tools that already were available to track mobsters and drug dealers.
Frederik, from Michigan writes:
Under the supposition that the terrorists hate America because of the
freedomes we enjoy; does not the extensive limitation and restriction of
American civil rights under the USA PATRIOT ACT help the alleged "cause"
of the terrorists?
The USA PATRIOT Act contains significant civil liberties safeguards, and four years of oversight and Inspector General reports have demonstrated that there have been no verified abuses of the provisions of the Act. I therefore cannot agree with your premise that the Act contains extensive limitation and restriction of American civil rights. Congress acted wisely after September 11, 2001 by giving us more authorities to fight terrorist, spies, and other dangerous criminals and by ensuring that these authorities were subject to appropriate safeguards. Moreover, each member of the Department of Justice and this Administration takes very seriously our obligation to follow the law and the Constitution we took an oath to defend.
Cliff, from Brimfield, Ohio
Attorney General Brand: What is all the controversy with the Patriot
Have we even had ONE case where it has affected an every day citizen or
interfered with their lives?
The Act has affected each and every one of us by granting law enforcement and national security investigators additional tools they need to protect us from another terrorist attack. The Act has been controversial, although many of the concerns and criticisms that I have heard have been based on misunderstandings or misinformation. My advice to any who find the Act or its provisions controversial is to ask questions and make sure that you are getting good information about what the Act actually does.
Ryan, from Chicago writes:
Section 223 of the Patriot Act created a cause of action for money
damages if the person was aggrieved by the willful violation of certain
portions of the Act or FISA. To date, how many people have filed claims
with the government or lawsuits pursuant to that section?
There have been no claims or lawsuits filed pursuant to that section, which is consistent with the fact that there have been no verified abuses of the USA PATRIOT Act provisions.
Alexander, from Virginia writes:
Isn't the Patriot Act critical to keeping us safe? Doesn't it just apply
the same tactics already used with drug dealers to terrorists?
The provisions of the USA PATRIOT Act have been critical to our efforts to keep America safe from another terrorist attack. And you are correct, many of the provisions of the USA PATRIOT Act simply made sure that our agents investigating terrorists and spies could use more of the same tools that agents investigating mobsters and drug dealers can use.
Kathryn, from Danville, Pa
If the Patriot Act does not pass, how difficult will it be to track down
There is no question that if the USA PATRIOT Act is not reauthorized, some of its most critical provisions will expire at the end of the year. Provisions set to expire include key information-sharing provisionslosing those provisions will create uncertainty about how we currently conduct investigations and prosecutions.
Jason, from Chicago, IL.
Do you believe that there will be any changes to the Patriot Act to make
it less obtrusive into the privacy of Americans? It just seems to me
that many people including myself are afaid that our government could be
using the Patriot Act to violate our individual rights.
The USA PATRIOT Act both helped investigators track terrorists and spies and protected civil liberties. After four years, there have been no verified abuses of these provisions. Even so, the bill passed by the House would add more than 30 new civil liberties safeguards. If the Senate does not allow a vote on the House bill, none of those additional safeguards will go into place.
Tanner, from Fort Campbell, KY ( 101st ABN DIV )
What do you feel is the most important reason for having and keeping the
First, let me thank you for your service to our country. We are all grateful for your sacrifices and those of all of our men and women in uniform. To answer your question, I would say that the single most important thing that the USA PATRIOT Act did was to break down the wall preventing information sharing. Unfortunately, some of the key provisions that helped in breaking down the wall are set to expire if the Senate does not act by the end of the year.
April, from Winston-Salem, North Carolina
Hi Rachel,What is the Patriot Act in laymen terms, and what impact will
it have on the average US citizen?
Thanks for all of your hard work
As I told Matthew (above), the USA PATRIOT Act is a very important piece of legislation that Senators and Representatives came together to pass shortly after the horrific attacks of September 11, 2001. With this bill, Congress gave law enforcement (such as police officers and prosecutors) and national security investigators additional tools to protect Americans from harm. One thing the bill did was try to make sure that people going after terrorists and spies could use the same tools as people going after mobsters and drug dealers, which was not always the case before September 11. The bill also tried to make sure that the law was keeping up with the amazing changes in technology that have happened. The bill also tore down the so-called wall that prevented some FBI agents from sharing information with other FBI agents, even if they were all investigating Osama bin Laden. For the last four years, the USA PATRIOT Act has formed a cornerstone of this Administrations efforts to protect Americans and our civil liberties. We are proud of our record over the last four years.
Thank you again for writing in with your questions--this is an important issue that must be discussed based on facts, not rhetoric. As some of you asked very similar questions, I did not answer them all separately, but I hope I gave you the information you asked for. I appreciate the opportunity to talk about this critical legislation and why the Senate needs to allow a vote on reauthorizing its expiring provisions.