Letter from Bob Barr to the Full U.S. House of Representatives

July 21, 2005

U.S. House of Representatives
Washington, DC 20515

Dear Representative:

As you prepare to vote this week on H.R. 3199, the USA PATRIOT and Terrorism Prevention Reauthorization Act of 2005, I urge you to resist pressure to rush the bill through Congress without a full and fair debate on the proposed legislation and possible amendments. The sunset provisions do not expire until December 31, 2005, and there is no reason to rush a bill through Congress before the August recess while all attention is focused on the new Supreme Court nominee.

I also urge you to resist efforts to make the expiring provisions of the Patriot Act permanent. With Americans’ constitutional rights at stake, it is essential that Congress maintain its ability to revisit the Patriot Act to see how certain provisions are being implemented. The majority of Americans have serious reservations about aspects of the Patriot Act that violate their constitutional rights, particularly the right to privacy. New sunsets should be provided, at least for the most controversial powers. Congress and the American people need the leverage that new sunsets would provide to get information about how these powers are being used.

Section 213, which allows federal agents to conduct secret "sneak and peek" searches of people's homes and businesses and to seize their personal property without notice for months, should be modified. Allowing delayed notice for up to 180 days initially is far too long and the vague "catch-all" justification should be removed. Instead, the bill should restore checks and balances by allowing section 213 search warrants to be kept secret only under exigent circumstances. This section can easily be amended without undermining anti-terrorism efforts because the Justice Department has acknowledged that the vast majority of these secret searches are in non-terrorism cases (about 88 percent).

I also urge you to modify section 215, often referred to as the "library provision." More far-reaching than most people realize, section 215 allows government agents to use a secret court to collect personal data on ordinary Americans, such as library, financial and medical records, and records of firearm purchases, without any facts connecting them to a foreign terrorist or any evidence linking them to a crime. The proposed ten-year sunset period on this intrusive power is too long: It would be unwise to set a new sunset date for these powers that would skip the next president.

These modest but important fixes are necessary to bring the Patriot Act in line with the Constitution by restoring checks and balances on broad government powers. I urge you to support these modifications to the Patriot Act that protect Americans’ civil liberties.

Sincerely,

 

Bob Barr, Chair
Patriots to Restore Checks and Balances


Defend the Constitution