Thank you for your message regarding the need to protect civil liberties in the midst of the fight against terrorism. I appreciate learning your thoughts about this issue.
I understand your concerns about measures that expand the authority of law enforcement, such as the Patriot Act and the National Security Intelligence Reform Act. I am committed to preserving our freedoms during war and peace. We cannot forget the lessons painfully learned from times when we sacrificed liberty in the name of security.
Congress responded promptly to the attacks on September 11th by crafting bipartisan anti-terrorism legislation called the USA Patriot Act. I supported the Patriot Act because it addressed gaps in our laws that have unnecessarily hindered law enforcement efforts against terrorists and other criminals – for example, it updated some wiretap and electronic surveillance laws that had been unchanged since the era of rotary telephones.
I recognize that the Patriot Act is far from perfect. Senator Larry Craig and I introduced the Security and Freedom Ensured (SAFE) Act to narrow its scope. This legislation would impose reasonable limits on law enforcement's authority to combat terrorism while protecting against unchecked government surveillance.
The measure does not repeal the Patriot Act, but rather makes necessary changes to it. For instance, the SAFE Act would impose reasonable limits on the FBI's authority to seize business and library records, "sneak and peak" warrants, and roving wiretaps. The FBI would still have wide-ranging authority to combat terrorism while also protecting innocent Americans from unchecked government surveillance.
The Administration continues to take steps to expand, rather than restrict, the Patriot Act. Language drafted by the Justice Department and known as Patriot Act II or the Domestic Security Enhancement Act, contains provisions that would, among other things, go beyond prosecuting terrorist acts and take the extraordinary step of empowering the government to strip U.S. citizenship from individuals who engage in lawful activities that may be seen by our government as supporting "terrorist" organizations. In addition, the proposal would create a DNA database of "suspected terrorists," mandate that arrests in cases of international terrorism be kept secret until an indictment is filed, and empower the Attorney General to deport lawful permanent U.S. residents if he believes their presence is inconsistent with our national security. While the draft has not been introduced in Congress as a bill in its entirety, portions have been proposed.
In addition, some of the provisions from the draft Patriot Act II were added to the National Security Intelligence Reform Act last year. I opposed the inclusion of these provisions and worked to include language to limit the likelihood of civil liberties violations. I am pleased that the final version of that bill included core elements of my proposal to create an independent board tasked with ensuring that the government does not violate privacy or civil liberties.
I am committed to defending our country while protecting our civil liberties and our principles of freedom and justice. As Congress revisits this issue and considers additional anti-terrorism legislation, we must take care to preserve these important ideals. Thanks again for your message.
Richard J. Durbin
United States Senator
P.S. If you are ever visiting Washington, please feel free to join Senator Obama and me at our weekly constituent coffee. When the Senate is in session, we provide coffee and donuts every Thursday at 8:30 a.m. as we hear what is on the minds of Illinoisans and respond to your questions. We would welcome your participation. Please call my D.C. office for more details.
I am happy to hear from the my senator regarding my concerns about the powers given to our government through the patriot act and other congressional efforts that have precipitated out of the terror attacts of September 11, 2001.
All Americans should understand the serious nature of these things and insist that their legislators work to protect our rights.