FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE|
TUESDAY, APRIL 5, 2005
TDD (202) 514-1888
ATTORNEY GENERAL ALBERTO R. GONZALES CALLS ON CONGRESS TO RENEW VITAL PROVISIONS OF THE USA PATRIOT ACT
WASHINGTON, D.C. - Attorney General Alberto R. Gonzales today called for Congress to renew all 16 provisions of the USA PATRIOT Act that are scheduled to sunset at the end of 2005 and presented the Senate Judiciary Committee with new information regarding the Justice Department’s use of certain PATRIOT Act provisions.
“The USA PATRIOT Act has been an integral part of the federal government’s successful prosecution of the war against terrorism, and now is not the time to relinquish some of our most effective tools in the fight,” said Attorney General Gonzales. “I look forward to working with members of the committee on a bipartisan basis to protect the security of the American people, and I am open to suggestions for clarifying and strengthening the Act. But let me be clear about one thing: I will not support any proposal that would undermine our ability to combat terrorism effectively.”
The PATRIOT Act was passed by Congress with overwhelming bipartisan support following the terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001, and it has been instrumental in assisting law enforcement to dismantle terrorist cells, disrupt terrorist plots, and capture terrorists before they have been able to strike. Several of the Act’s most important provisions are scheduled to expire on December 31, 2005, including sections 215 and 206.
Section 215 allows national security investigators to seek a court order requesting the production of relevant business records and other items, which grand juries frequently obtain in ordinary criminal investigations. This way, if a spy or international terrorism suspect were to be picked up by someone using a rental car, investigators can request a court order for car rental records or other tangible things that would help identify whomever he meets and move the investigation forward.
Each and every request for business records under section 215 must be approved in advance by a federal judge. The Justice Department has stated previously that only records relevant to a national security investigation may be requested, and that the recipient of a court order under section 215 may both consult with an attorney and challenge the order in court. In his statement today, Attorney General Gonzales said that the Department would support technical modifications to section 215 that clarify those three points in the law.
In presenting new information recently declassified by the Justice Department to the committee, Attorney General Gonzales noted that federal judges have reviewed and granted the Department’s request for a section 215 order 35 times as of March 30, 2005. To date, the provision has only been used to obtain driver’s license records, public accommodations records, apartment leasing records, credit card records, and subscriber information-such as names and addresses-for telephone numbers captured through court-authorized pen registers and trap and trace authority (a pen register records the numbers a telephone dials and a trap and trace device records the numbers from which it receives calls). The Department has not obtained a section 215 order for library or bookstore records, medical records, or gun sale records.
Section 206 gives terrorism investigators the ability to use “roving” wiretaps in their investigations, as criminal investigators have long been able to do. If an international terrorism suspect were to switch his cell phone provider each week, national security investigators are now able to continue tracking him under section 206, because their court-authorized wiretap would cover the individual and not just one cell phone that the suspect might discard after a short time.
Prior to the passage of the PATRIOT Act, every time an international terrorist or spy changed cell phones or switched communications providers, investigators had to return to court to obtain a new surveillance order, leaving open the possibility that they might miss a key conversation that could help them prevent a terrorist attack or protect American lives. Section 206 of the PATRIOT Act fixed this problem by authorizing multi-point or “roving” surveillance of an international terrorist or spy when a federal judge finds that the target may act to throw investigators off his trail. This section has been used 49 times as of March 30, 2005 and proven effective in monitoring spies and international terrorists.
Other sections of the USA PATRIOT Act have also helped in the fight against terrorism. For example, section 207 increased the initial time duration for Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act (FISA) electronic surveillance and physical search orders and the Department estimates that it has saved nearly 60,000 attorney-hours-nearly a year’s worth of work for 30 Department attorneys. Section 207 includes provisions that apply to orders targeting foreigners who act inside the United States as officers and employees of a foreign power and members of a group engaged in international terrorism as well as other provisions that apply to both U.S. persons and non-U.S. persons. Attorney General Gonzales today proposed that the FISA process be further improved by increasing the maximum time duration of: (1) surveillance and search orders targeting any agent of a foreign power who is not a U.S. person; and (2) pen register orders-in cases where the information obtained is likely to involve foreign intelligence not concerning a U.S. person.
Most of these ideas regarding section 207 were endorsed by the bipartisan Commission on the Intelligence Capabilities of the United States Regarding Weapons of Mass Destruction, which said that they would help Justice Department personnel to “focus their attention where it is most needed.” These changes would have saved the Department an estimated 25,000 additional attorney-hours had they been in effect since the passage of the USA PATRIOT Act.
In certain narrow cases, the PATRIOT Act allows courts to give delayed notice that a search warrant has been executed. Delayed-notification warrants-codified by section 213-are a longstanding crime-fighting tool that courts across the country have upheld for decades. While this provision will not sunset, Attorney General Gonzales today emphasized the importance of this section, which always requires a judge’s approval and notice to a person whose property is searched. In appropriate cases, delayed-notification searches are necessary because, if terrorists or other criminals are prematurely tipped off that they are under investigation, they could take actions such as destroying evidence, harming witnesses, or fleeing prosecution.
The Justice Department announced yesterday that since the PATRIOT Act set uniform nationwide standards for the issuance of delayed-notification search warrants, the Department has been authorized to use them 155 times as of January 31, 2005. The Department estimates that court-approved delayed-notification warrants represent less than 0.2 percent of the search warrants handled by the federal courts.
The law enforcement tools provided by the PATRIOT Act have been an important part of many of the nation’s counterterrorism successes, including helping to charge 379 defendants with terrorism-related crimes and attaining more than 200 convictions or guilty pleas. In addition to providing tools that have been instrumental in the war on terror, the USA PATRIOT Act tore down the “wall” between the law enforcement and intelligence communities, allowing them to share information and “connect the dots” to uncover terrorist plots before they are completed.