Monday, June 27, 2005

Hatch: Second letter on PATRIOT

Below is a second letter I received in response to mine that opposed "administrative subpoenas". (Note: I have since changed my mind-I consider the 'subpoena' section to be unnecessary, but harmless.)

Hatch cites in his letter, "...the most important civil liberty: the freedom from future terrorist attacks." Do you agree that our security is our most important value?

"Dear Mr. Farrer

Thank you for your letter expressing your opposition to the expansion of the USA PATRIOT Act. I am always interested in the thoughts and opinions of Utahns and I welcome the opportunity to respond.

As you may know, several sections of the USA PATRIOT Act are set to expire at the end of this year and the Senate is currently debating the reauthorization of these provisions. Please let me reiterate that I share the beliefs underlying your expression of concern. It is critical that Congress respect the limits of government and not attempt to authorize powers that exceed those delegated by our cherished Constitution. Likewise, it is critical that Congress not take action to jeopardize individual civil liberties or other constitutional protections that are the hallmark of our country and its form of government.

I would like to address some misinformation about the USA PATRIOT Act which has led some to call for its repeal. I have studied the implementation of this law at great length. While serving as chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee during the 108th Congress, I held numerous hearings on this Act, including a field hearing in Salt Lake City. So far, no one has advanced any credible evidence that the USA PATRIOT Act has eroded the civil liberties that we hold dear as Americans. To the contrary, the USA PATRIOT ACT has enabled the Justice Department, the Federal Bureau of Investigation, and the Central Intelligence Agency to save American lives and protect what is perhaps the most important civil liberty: the freedom from future terrorist attacks.

It is extremely important to note that all the information gathering activities conducted under the authority of the USA PATRIOT Act are conducted under the careful scrutiny and supervision of the judicial branch, which has the power both to terminate unlawful intrusions and to punish those who violate their court orders. The USA PATRIOT Act does not change the role played by the judiciary in the oversight of Federal law enforcement activities. For example, Federal agents must still have probable cause and then obtain judicial approval before they can search a residence or install a wiretap or pen register to gather information.

Beyond that, courts still have the power to suppress evidence obtained illegally and in violation of the Constitution. Every one of these authorized actions must be done pursuant to specific legal protections and valid court orders which require the government to meet exacting legal standards. Further, in many cases, there is a requirement that any gathering of information be minimized, which requires agents to obtain only information that relates to terrorist or criminal activity. There is no provision for monitoring innocent communications.

I have always been sensitive to the need for protections of our nation's civil liberties against unwarranted government invasions. In drafting the USA PATRIOT Act, I worked to balance carefully legitimate privacy concerns against the rights of our citizens to be free from terrorist attacks. This was a difficult-but mandatory-balance.

The only substantial addition or expansion to the USA PATRIOT Act currently being considered is the inclusion of what has been called an "administrative subpoena" power. You should know that this power is currently used in many various criminal (non-terrorist) investigations and prosecutions and has been found in court to be constitutional in those contexts. Adding these powers to those included in the USA PATRIOT Act would give those fighting terrorism the same tools that have been proven to be effective and appropriate in other cases. However, I believe that before any such provision is adopted, it should be carefully examined to ensure that it adheres to limits set in the Constitution. I remain committed to a thorough and thoughtful debate on this issue.

Thank you, once again, for your letter. Though we may disagree on some of these issues, I hope my comments have been helpful.


Orrin G. Hatch
United States Senator"

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