H.R. 5349: To extend the Protect America Act of 2007 for 21 days
February 13, 2008
As you may know, I have opposed all attempts by this President to limit our civil liberties or to circumvent our judicial system. Because of these strong beliefs, I was one of only 66 Members who voted against the original PATRIOT Act.
In August, Congress passed the so-called Protect America Act. This law provided extensive powers to the executive branch to conduct warrantless surveillance. I voted against the Act. Some provisions of the law are set to expire February 15, 2008.
As part of the debate over extending these expiring provisions, the President has insisted that his surveillance powers be extended and private companies that helped him violate the law be immunized from any independent judicial review of those acts. Unfortunately, this past week, the Senate agreed with his positions and sent a bill to the House to do just that. You should know that Senators Kerry and Kennedy both voted against this proposal.
Fortunately, the House refuses to cave into the President's demands, especially on the immunity provisions. In an attempt to allow all parties time to work out their differences, the House proposed a 21 day extension to the expiring provisions. Since I simply cannot envision a scenario where I would support this measure, I voted against the extension. The entire vote is recorded below. Please note that some of those who voted in favor may not agree with the provisions they may have been voting simply to allow time for compromise.
Under the law before the PATRIOT Act and Protect America Acts, the government was required to obtain search warrants from a secret court. You may have heard of it referred to as the FISA Court. Evidence is presented secretly and decisions are rendered secretly. However, most civil liberties are protected under this process. In fact, of the 15,000 or so requests for secret search warrants, only 3 were denied. Ironically, the President is claiming that the House's failure to act will hinder surveillance capabilities. If this were even close to the truth, he would not threaten to veto an extension of the law designed to give the House and Senate time to deliberate over differences between their two versions of a longer term FISA update.
Congressman Silvestre Reyes, Chairman of the Permanent Select Committee on Intelligence, has written an impassioned letter to the President on this matter. I encourage you to read his letter, which you may access here: http://intelligence.house.gov/Media/PDFS/ReyesRelease021408.pdf
Contact: Alison M. Mills (617) 621-6208
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