Bush urges Patriot Act renewed, expanded
'We can't return to the days of false hope,' president says
HERSHEY, Pennsylvania (CNN) -- President Bush urged Congress on Monday to renew the anti-terrorist USA Patriot Act and strengthen it before the law expires next year, saying it gives investigators the tools to stop "terrorist monsters."
"There's only one path to safety, and that's the path of action," Bush said. "Congress must act with the Patriot Act. We must continue to stay on the offense when it comes to chasing these killers down and bring them to justice."
Bush credited the law, which passed overwhelmingly in the aftermath of the September 11, 2001, attacks on New York, Virginia and Pennsylvania, with the ability of federal agents to break up "terrorist supporters and operatives" in eight states.
He urged Congress to make permanent all the act's provisions and to add others that he said would strengthen the law.
Those include provisions expanding the federal death penalty for terrorist attacks, restricting bail for suspects facing terrorism charges and allowing administrative subpoenas to be issued without a judge's or a grand jury's approval in cases "where speed is of the essence."
"We can't return to the days of false hope," he said. "The terrorists declared war on the United States of America, and the Congress must give law enforcement all the tools necessary to protect the American people."
Critics on both the left and right say the act already gives federal agents too much power to snoop on and limit the freedom of individual Americans.
A federal judge in California declared a portion of the statute unconstitutional in January, saying its ban on providing "expert advice or assistance" to groups designated international terrorist organizations was impermissibly vague.
Timothy Edgar, legislative counsel for the American Civil Liberties Union, said some of the Patriot Act's provisions make sense.
He cited those allowing government agencies to share intelligence and help intelligence services to translate intercepted documents.
"The provisions that are a problem are those that minimize judicial scrutiny of searches and surveillance and that increase government secrecy," Edgar told CNN in a weekend interview.
"We believe that the government shouldn't be able to go into your home without telling you, and that it shouldn't be able to get records about what books you've read, your medical records and other private records without any individual suspicion."
Edgar said the government had extensive surveillance and investigator powers before the September 11 attacks "that it failed to effectively use."
"It seems that the president is using this issue as a distraction from some of the findings of the 9/11 commission that show that under their existing powers and existing law, the government did not do enough to protect us from the attacks of September 11," he said.
Deputy Attorney General James Comey said Monday the law has suffered from "two years of confusion and misconceptions."
For instance, he said, no reference to libraries is in the Patriot Act, even though critics say it would allow investigators to probe a citizen's library records.
"There's a provision that allows counterterrorism investigations to get a court order to obtain documents from car rental places or hotels, or in theory, I suppose, libraries, although I can't figure out how libraries got mixed in this," Comey said.
"That's a power that regular criminal investigators have had for hundreds of years. It now applies to counterterrorism investigators. They have to go to a judge and get a court order to obtain the records."