March 9, 2006
I appreciate the opportunity to talk about the USA PATRIOT Act and its reauthorization. The Department of Justices first priority is to protect Americans from terrorism, and the USA PATRIOT Act has been critical to our efforts. The President and the Department have made reauthorization of the expiring USA PATRIOT Act provisions a top legislative priority, and it has been a privilege for me to work on those efforts.
Today, the President signed the USA PATRIOT Improvement and Reauthorization Act of 2005 into law. This Act, which was the product of almost a year of intense debate and negotiations, reauthorizes each of the USA PATRIOT Act provisions that were set to expire tomorrow, adds dozens of civil liberties safeguards, and provides additional tools for combating terrorism and protecting our seaports and mass transportation systems. It is a testament to the hard work and integrity of law enforcement and national security personnel across the country that Congress agreed, with wide bipartisan majorities, to reauthorize each and every expiring provision. The bill also authorizes the Department to create a National Security Division that combines its counterterrorism, counterespionage, and foreign intelligence resources into one dedicated team. Finally, the law signed today contains the Combat Methamphetamine Act of 2005, which takes aim at the growing problem of methamphetamine manufacture and use.
James, from New York
Hi Rachel, Just a question - why is it called the 'Patriot' Act? Is
an acronym, or is it just called the 'Patriot' Act to honour those
patriots who seek to protect the United States from terrorists?
Thanks - the President is in my prayers
Good question, James. The full name of the act passed in 2001 is the Uniting and Strengthening America by Providing Appropriate Tools Required to Intercept and Obstruct Terrorism Act of 2001 or USA PATRIOT Act.
Marly, from Memphis, TN writes:
It is to my grave dismay that, following thorough research, I cannot
find the USA PATRIOT Act of 2001 available online. Please provide a link
to the full text of the act, so that we America patriots may better
understand the law of our nation. With hopeful thanks, Marly, college
Marly, thank you for taking the time to look for the text of the Act. Here is a link to the text of the Act through the online legislative service THOMAS. This is a free service provided by the Library of Congress.
Peter, from Memphis, TN
While I can see the benefits of the Patriot Act, I'm deeply concerned
with possible abuse of the Act in the future. What safeguards are in
place to ensure there is no slippery slope. The Act just seems somewhat
"Orwellian" to me.
The USA PATRIOT Act not only provided important tools for national security and law enforcement personnel, but it accompanied those tools with significant safeguards. Those safeguards include Congressional oversight (through reporting requirements and other means), judicial review, and internal guidelines that the Attorney General has provided to ensure that national security and other investigations respect the rights and liberties of all Americans. The reauthorization legislation provides dozens of additional civil liberties safeguards, including clarifying that additional judicial challenges are available. Moreover, the reauthorization legislation directs the Department of Justices Inspector General to audit the use of two tools that have been the subject of controversysection 215, which authorizes the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act to order the production of business records, and National Security Letters, which allow the government to request certain types of records in terrorism investigations.
Josef, from Sedro-Woolley, WA, USA
Assistant Attorney General; Quick question: How many lives have been
saved because of the Patriot Act?
Thanks and go get 'em
This is a very good question, but one that is difficult to answer. It is impossible for us to say with certainty how many lives have been saved because of the USA PATRIOT Act. What we do know is that law enforcement and national security personnel from across the country agree that the provisions of that Act have been critical to our efforts to protect Americans. We also know that federal terrorism and terrorism-related investigations since the terrible attacks of September 11th have resulted in charges against more than 428 suspects and more than half of those charged have already been convicted. Moreover, federal, state, and local law enforcement have used the USA PATRIOT Act to break up terror cells in Ohio, New York, Oregon, and Virginia, and have prosecuted terrorist operatives and supporters in California, Texas, New Jersey, Illinois, Washington, and North Carolina.
Joel, from Superior, WI
Ms. Brand, What does it mean for the War on Terror to have the Patriot
The provisions of the USA PATRIOT Act have been absolutely critical to our efforts to protect Americans and the values that we cherish. The Act helped to break down the legal and bureaucratic wall that separated law enforcement and national security personnel, gave national security investigators the same tools that criminal investigators could use to track drug dealers, and brought the law up to speed with changes in technology. Sixteen provisions of that Act were set to expire tomorrow. Among those provisions were key information-sharing provisions, a provision allowing national security investigators to obtain a court order for electronic surveillance that attached to a particular terrorist or spy rather than a particular cell phone (which investigators have been allowed to use for decades in mafia investigations), and a provision allowing Internet Service Providers to disclose customer records voluntarily in situations involving immediate risk of death or serious physical injury without fear of being sued.
John, from Nebraska writes:
Hello, Why is the Patriot Act so controversial? Thank you so much
That is an excellent question. It has been my experience that many of the concerns about or criticisms of the Act have been based on misunderstandings or misinformation. Many of the concerns that I have heard about had nothing to do with the USA PATRIOT Act; for example, the Act is not in any way connected to the detention of enemy combatants at Guantanamo Bay. I would suggest that if you have concerns about what you think the Act does, you should ask questions and find out whether the Act really does what you are concerned it might.
Joanne, from Chicago, IL
Hi, I just want to know if the PATRIOT Act ist really necessary? Thank
Joanne, as I explained to Joel, we believe that the USA PATRIOT Act has been absolutely critical to our efforts to protect Americans. For the past four years, preventing terrorism has been the top priority of the Department of Justice, and over that period, the USA PATRIOT Act has been a cornerstone of our efforts. The Act has helped our law enforcement and national security investigators to share information and coordinate efforts to connect the dots to prevent another attack, has provided our national security investigators with tools weve been using to track down drug dealers and mobsters, and has given investigators tools they need to keep pace with sophisticated spies and terrorists who are trained to evade surveillance.
Daniel, from Pullman, WA
By renewing the provisions of the PATRIOT Act, aren't we creating an
option for leadership of this country to abuse our civil liberties?And
those who will oppose a leadership of that sort to be gagged by
Just like in the Soviet Union, the measures that Communists took, to
prevent any disagreements with their policies, were very similar as to
those outlined in the PATRIOT Act, and these policies were used to
prosecute Christians, and all other groups opposed to the Communist
This is an important question, and one that I am glad to have the opportunity to answer. As I explained above, the USA PATRIOT Act accompanied important national security and law enforcement tools with significant Congressional and judicial oversight. Those safeguards were put there in addition to the internal procedures and guidelines that the Attorney General has set out. The reauthorization legislation has added dozens of new safeguards in an effort to make sure that as we protect Americans, we also protect the values that we all cherish. For example, the reauthorization clarifies the availability of judicial challenges of certain terrorism investigative tools. Each of us takes an oath to defend and preserve the Constitution and our rights, and we take that oath very seriously. And that we take seriously our oath to protect the Constitution is one important reason Congress has reauthorized all of the expiring provisions of the USA PATRIOT Act and given us additional tools to prevent and investigate terrorism.
Chris, from Rancho Palos Verdes, CA
Thank you for speaking about the Patriot Act today I doubt whoever is
screening these questions will let this one through, but here goes:The
original legislation was enacted shortly after 911, under the
assumption that "we didn't connect the dots", and that information was
not properly shared between the CIA and FBI.
Were those assumptions correct? Isn't it true that the plot could have
been wrapped up with some luck and good intelligence work, thereby
nullifying the need to grant new powers to the federal government?
Chris, this is an excellent question, but like some other questions, one that is difficult to answer. We simply cannot say with absolute certainty what might have been had there not been legal and bureaucratic walls preventing our national security and law enforcement personnel from sharing information and coordinating their efforts. But the 9/11 Commission Report contained an example that none of us should ever forget. According to the unanimous report of that bipartisan Commission, the wall thwarted the investigation of Khalid al-Midhdar and Nawaf al-Hazmi, two of the hijackers who flew an airplane into the Pentagon on September 11, 2001. A New York FBI agent working on the case expressed his frustration with these restrictions in the following e-mail: "Whatever has happened to this - someday someone will die - and wall or not - the public will not understand why we were not more effective and throwing every resource we had at certain 'problems.'"
Expert after expert testified during hearings on reauthorizing the expiring provisions that the USA PATRIOT Act has been critical to our efforts not just to break down the "wall," but to change our whole approach to one of prevention. The Acts provisions make it much more likely that we wont have to rely on luck to keep Americans safe.
Michael, from Fullerton, CA writes:
I am all for protecting this country from terrorists. I just don't
understand what do pharmaceutical companies have to do with it. Why in
the PATRIOT act does it say that if a pharmacy messes up a prescription
and you suffer from it, you cannot sue the pharmaceutical company? I
understand why this is something logical to pass as a bill, but it has
nothing to do with fighting terrorism. Why is it in the PATRIOT act?
Michael, I am not sure that I know exactly what provision you are talking about, but I would like to clarify something that I think has confused people. The bill that the President signed today has several parts. One part reauthorizes the expiring provisions of the USA PATRIOT Act. Another part authorizes the creation of a National Security Division. Still others include the Combat Methamphetamine Act of 2005 and numerous other provisions that are not related to the USA PATRIOT Act itself. While these provisions are different from the USA PATRIOT Act, Congress passed them in the same piece of legislation that reauthorizes the USA PATRIOT Acts expiring provisions.
Bryan, from ILLINOIS writes:
Why has the patriot act been renwed if there has been no substantial
evidence of continuing terrorism in the United States?
Unfortunately, the threat of terrorism continues to be real, which is why preventing another terrorist attack remains the top priority of the Department of Justice. The efforts of dedicated law enforcement and national security personnel have been integral to protecting us from another attack on American soil, but we know for a fact that our enemies continue to search for ways to destroy us and our way of life. The threat remains, we must remain vigilant, and we must equip our dedicated people with the tools they need.
Brandon, from New Jersey
Hello. I am 15 years old and I am concerned about the Patriot Act. Ben
Franklin once said, "Those who sacrifice freedom for security deserve
neither." Is that still relevant? If not, why not? And does the Patriot
Act violate that quote? Please answer my question, Brandon
Thank you for this question. We agree with Benjamin Franklin's timeless statement that "Those who would sacrifice essential liberties for a little temporary safety deserve neither liberty nor safety," and to that end, we are committed to protecting both Americans and the values that we cherish.
Moreover, we believe that each provision of the USA PATRIOT Act comports with the rights enshrined in our Constitution. Many of the provisions simply made available to national security investigators tools that we have used to investigate drug dealers and mobsters for years. Others helped to break down the legal and bureaucratic "wall" between our law enforcement and national security personnel, allowing us to best use all of our resources to protect Americans in a way in which we can all be proud. That Congress has reauthorized each and every provision is proof that we have succeeded in protecting our values and our safety.
Jonathan, from Arlington, VA
Rachel -- Congratulations on the passage of the USA PATRIOT Act. Could
you tell us about the provisions that purport to amend AEDPA and further
constrict the scope of the "Great Writ"? Are you concerned that these
provisions might turn habeas corpus into something not-so-great?
In 1996, Congress enacted chapter 154 of title 28 of the United States Code. This chapter provides for expedited federal habeas corpus review of state capital cases, if a state has established a mechanism for the appointment, compensation, and payment of reasonable litigation expenses of competent counsel to represent indigent capital defendants in state postconviction proceedings. The new legislation maintains these requirements for the applicability of chapter 154. Its reform is procedural in nature: Whether a state satisfies these requirements would be determined by the Attorney General, subject to review by the Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit, rather than by the regional federal courts elsewhere in the country. There is nothing in this change in the certification procedure for chapter 154 that constricts the scope of the Great Writ or that impairs any legitimate function of federal habeas corpus review.
It has been a privilege for me to participate in the debate over reauthorization, including answering the questions asked today. I thank all of you for taking the time to raise your concerns and ask your questions and I encourage each of you to remain engaged in the discussion of the most important issue that we face today the threat of terrorism. As some of your questions were similar, I did not answer each of them, but I hope you all come away with the answers you sought. This reauthorization legislation provides vital tools for our efforts to combat terrorism and other serious crimes, in addition to adding dozens of new civil liberties safeguards. This is legislation we can all be proud of.