Squeezing himself in as part of a mere 40 minutes of debate regarding reauthorization of key provisions of the USA Patriot Act, Rep. Robert Scott of Virginia rose to explain why later this evening he will be voting a firm NO (transcript of video broadcast):
Mr. Speaker, I rise in opposition to H.R. 514, which would extend for one year sweeping governmental intrusions into our lives and privacy that were authorized by the USA Patriot Act and the 2004 Intelligence Act. Without meaningful oversight demonstrating that these extraordinary powers are needed, we should not extend these provisions for one full year or for any period of time for that matter. I therefore oppose the bill.
I am opposed because I simply do not accept the argument that in order to be safe we necessarily have to sacrifice our rights and freedoms. I agree with Benjamin Franklin, who stated in the formation of our nation that “They who give up essential liberty to obtain a little temporary safety deserve neither liberty nor safety.” One of the provisions the bill reauthorizes is Section 215 of the Patriot Act. It gives the government power to secretly invade our private records such as books we read at the library, by merely alleging that they are relevant to a terrorism investigation but without having to show that the seized material is in connection with any specific suspected terrorist or terrorist activity. There is no requirement to show probable cause or even reasonable suspicion of being related to a specific act of terrorism. Therefore there is no meaningful standard to judge whether or not the material is in fact necessary.
Another provision of H.R. 514 is Section 206 of the Patriot Act, which is referred to as a roving John Doe wiretap provision. It gives the government the power to wiretap a whole conversation without having to show which phone will be used or even who will be using it, and without requiring a court order for the specific roving tap.
The third provision is Section 6001 of the Intelligence Reform and Terrorism Prevention Act of 2004, referred to as the Lone Wolf provision. It gives the government the power to spy on individuals in the United States who are not U.S. citizens or permanent resident aliens, even though they are not agents of a foreign government or any terrorist organization. Unfortunately, this means that if those targets have any interaction with an American citizen, then that U.S. citizen is spied upon as well. We already allow spying on such noncitizens outside the United States or even in the United States where there is probable cause that they are agents of a foreign government or members of a terrorist organization, but this is an extension of that power which could envelop anybody simply as a result of the occasion of interacting with a targeted person, even while they’re in the United States.
The three provisions give the government the power to invade our privacy, even when there is no probable cause, nor even reasonable suspicion or credible evidence of any wrongdoing, and without allowing the kind of detached oversight such as a court warrant which is generally called upon when such power an individual is extended.
Absent these oversight protections even after the fact in the case of emergencies, all three provisions should be allowed to expire unless we demonstrate in oversight hearings that these powers are necessary and narrowly tailored to achieve a compelling national security interest. Freedoms and the protections these provisions take away are the core of our values and liberties. And so these protections should not be legislated away without rigorous oversight to protect against abuse.