PATRIOT Act reauthorization, meetings slated

Published 12:30 pm Monday, July 25, 2005

By By Jo Bonner
The terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001, as well as more recent attacks in Madrid, Spain, and London, England, showed in a very tragic way just how vulnerable many areas of the world are to these sorts of actions. Members of al Qaeda and other affiliated organizations spent a great deal of time blending into the populations of several nations around the world and exploring all aspects of life there. Living in this manner also gave them the opportunity to locate targets and develop methods of attack that would make the most impact on the population, infrastructure, and governments of these areas.
As a result of the 9-11 attacks on American soil, and in an effort to protect this country against future terrorist incidents, the House of Representatives (by a vote of 357-66) and the Senate (by a vote of 98-1) in 2001 passed the USA PATRIOT Act. The primary function of this act was to put procedures in place which would disrupt terrorist activities before attacks took place.
In the time since passage of the act, there have been many successes as a result of the measures put into place by the PATRIOT Act. Since the September 11 attacks, nearly 400 individuals have been arrested by the Justice Department as a result of ongoing investigations into international terrorism. Of that total, over half were convicted as a result of their actions.
Additionally, the Inspector General issued six reviews and reports on actions taken based on provisions of the act. In those six reports, the IG found that not one violation of an individual's civil liberties – a total of zero – had taken place since the act was instituted.
Last week, in an effort to address some of the provisions of the act which are due to expire, the House passed, by a vote of 257-171, the USA PATRIOT and Terrorism Prevention Reauthorization Act of 2005. This vote, which came only after the Judiciary Committee had conducted a careful review of the act, held 12 hearings, and took testimony from 41 witnesses, addressed potential weaknesses and loopholes in the provisions.
The review process was conducted in an extremely bipartisan manner. Minority members of the Judiciary Committee were responsible for the invitation of 1/3 of the witnesses who appeared. These individuals represented organizations including the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU), the Center for Democracy and Technology, Human Rights First, and Amnesty International. Additionally, of the eight amendments adopted by the full committee, nearly half were offered by the minority.
The House felt it was particularly important to address two sections of the PATRIOT Act which have a 10-year sunset provision. Section 206 authorizes, only after the approval of a judge, roving wiretaps. This method of surveillance authorizes wiretaps on specific individuals, rather than specific telephone lines. The other part, Section 215, gives the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act (FISA) Court the ability to subpoena records from a greater number of sources, as well as an increased variety of information.
This latter section has been the subject of a great deal of misinformation and rumor, and has become widely known as the library provision. In truth, Section 215 does not single out libraries or even make specific mention of them; it simply does not include them in a list of exempted organizations. It should be made clear to all Americans that federal officials and others conducting terrorism investigations don't have any interest in Jane Doe checking out the latest volume by Danielle Steele; these types of investigations are simply not relevant. In fact, during the four years since initial passage of the PATRIOT Act, Section 215 has not been used a single time to obtain library, bookstore, gun shop, or medical records.
Naturally, it will take more than a reauthorization of this act to make Americans truly safe; it will also take diligence, paying attention to our surroundings, and placing greater emphasis on stronger security measures. And certainly, while the debate on the PATRIOT Act is far from over, it is important that all Americans continue in this dialogue and work together to ensure greater security for our nation.
A quick word on Hurricane Dennis
Since last week's column on the aftermath of Hurricane Dennis, I have received a few phone calls raising concerns over my comments regarding the storm's true impact on the district.
I would like to state that that was certainly not my intention, and, in fact, I saw first-hand the damage the storm caused in some of the First District's inland counties. In the hours after Dennis made landfall, I visited with Atmore Mayor Howard Shell as he was trying to conduct city recovery operations from a blacked-out city hall, and saw Flomaton Mayor Dewey Bondurant sweeping water and removing damaged material from that town's offices.
The district did indeed suffer damage, and that should not be forgotten. My point is that we were, by comparison, quite lucky; Hurricane Dennis was a strong storm, but it did nowhere near the damage of Hurricane Ivan. For those who have suffered damage and need assistance, please don't hesitate to contact the FEMA hotline at 1-800-621-3362, or my office at 1-800-288-8721.
August town
meetings scheduled
I am pleased to announce that my staff and I, in continuing our long tradition of holding town hall meetings throughout the district each year, have scheduled our next round of meetings. This round of meetings will take us to eleven communities throughout south Alabama, and will be held on Monday, August 1, Wednesday, August 3, and Thursday, August 4. As I've said many times in the past, coming home to south Alabama gives me a good opportunity to hear directly from my constituents. Over the years, many of you have provided helpful comments and suggestions on some of the challenges facing this country, and I look forward to hearing your comments this time as well.
I hope each of you will look over this schedule and take the opportunity to come visit with us at the meeting closest to your home.
Monday, August 1, 2005
Wednesday, August 3, 2005
Thursday, August 4, 2005
For more information on these meetings, please feel free to call my Mobile district office at 1-800-288-8721.
My staff and I work for the people of south Alabama. Let us know when we can be of service.
Jo Bonner is a U.S. congressman. His column appears weekly.

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