Extending the PATRIOT Act: Why I Said No

Update: Patriot Act extension fails in the House.

– promoted by Rosi

The powers of intelligence and enforcement are the most important powers of government – but also the most fearsome. These powers must be wielded very, very carefully.

For decades, our government has routinely collected information on potential foreign threats through various forms of surveillance.  These intelligence collection activities enjoy broad, bipartisan support in our country because of their value in helping to protect America’s citizens and interests.  However, in the 1960s and 1970s, these collection capabilities were turned on the American people, and executive branch agencies engaged in spying on the American public – sometimes even for political purposes.  

The ensuing public backlash triggered the adoption of legal reforms that gave us laws to help prevent repeat of these abuses. Subsequently, the tragedy of the September 11, 2001 terrorist attacks gave proponents of renewed domestic surveillance a powerful political and rhetorical weapon, which they used to reduce constitutional protections against warrantless surveillance and seizures.

In 2006, Congress reauthorized the PATRIOT Act and included “sunset” requirements for three PATRIOT Act provisions.  One provision applied to “tangible things” sought by government investigators, including library records. The second provision governed the use of roving wiretaps.  The third involved expanded surveillance authorities allegedly needed to detect and target so-called “lone wolf” terrorists.  

Since 2005, I have voted against extending these and other provisions of the PATRIOT Act because of my belief that these provisions were overly broad and frequently abused while still not improving truly the security of the American people. My concerns were confirmed by the revelations of abuses of those authorities during hearings in the House Committee on the Judiciary in 2009, and in multiple reports issued by the Inspector General of the Justice Department over the last several years.  

Today the House considered a bill to extend the PATRIOT Act through the end of the year. However, the bill does nothing to fix those problems or prevent future abuses. This bill does not raise the standards for intelligence collection to ensure that the right people are targeted in the first place.  

The law was not meant to sunset so that we could periodically reauthorize it unchanged.  Our duty is to adjust the law based on our experience with it.  We now are on the verge of a third “temporary” extension with no remedies for the flaws identified by Congress and the Department of Justice.

For all these reasons, I will vote against this extension of the PATRIOT Act.

Holt served as Chair of the Select Intelligence Oversight Panel, created as an implementation of the 9/11 Commission. Speaker Boehner has now killed that panel entirely. Holt also served the House Permanent Select Committee on Intelligence. He’s off that committee, term-limited. Michele Bachmann is a new member of House Intel. It’s fair to say Rush Holt knows more about the Patriot Act than just about anyone in Congress.

Comments (3)

  1. Hopeful

    I’m very surprised the House voted no.  

  2. Alex

    I have to say I’m very fortunate to live in a district represented by one of the best (if not the best) members of the US House.

  3. Louise

    I am proud and happy to have you as my Congressman.

    I can only hope that you run for Senator when Sen. Lautenberg retires. You are his more-than-fitting successor. Be sure to serve on the Senate Intelligence Committee.

    You would make an excellent Director of the CIA. Then ALL Americans would finally be able to trust their own intelligence services.

    Thank you, Rep. Holt.


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