(Washington, D.C.) – Today, U.S. Senator Patty Murray (D-WA) voted against extending the most controversial portions of the USA Patriot Act and said she would work with other Senators to update the law in a more responsible way. Despite Murray's vote, the bill passed the Senate.
"Today I voted to ensure that as we protect our country we also protect our civil liberties. I've said all along that we need to strike the right balance, and this bill still falls far short," Murray said. "I take a backseat to no one when it comes to protecting our nation, and I know our security should not come at the expense of the rights and liberties that make our nation strong. We can do better than the bill that came before the Senate today."
"I support giving law enforcement the tools they need to defend us. They are defending our rights and liberties from people who seek to harm us. It is also my responsibility to protect and preserve the rights that make this country the best country in the world," Senator Murray said.
Senator Murray voted for the USA Patriot Act in 2001. She did so at the time with the agreement that the most controversial provisions in that act would be reviewed by Congress in the future. Those temporary provisions were set to expire at the end of 2005. Senator Murray and many of her colleagues on both sides of the aisle have worked to extend those measures to ensure that law enforcement has the tools it needs while we protect the basic liberties of all Americans.
In July 2005, the Senate crafted a bipartisan compromise that achieved those goals. Senator Murray supported that bill, and it passed the Senate unanimously. The Senate bill took several steps to protect the country while respecting individual rights. For example, instead of allowing the government to collect personal information on anyone, the government would need to convince a judge that a person it wants to investigate is somehow connected to terrorism or espionage. The Senate bill also ensured that if government agents searched a person's property and found no connection to terrorism or espionage, the government would notify the individual within seven days. If the government did find a connection, it could continue to investigate the person in secret under court supervision. Finally, the Senate bill allowed the courts to review the use of National Security Letters and the accompanying gag rule.
In the Fall, the Senate bill was then conferenced with the House version. The resulting conference report left out many common sense protections for innocent Americans. In December, that unbalanced conference report came before the Senate, but failed to get the votes needed to receive an up-or-down vote. On December 16th, Senator Murray voted with a bipartisan majority of Senators that the Senate should not take up the flawed bill and should instead come back and pass a better bill.
While Congress and the White House negotiated, Senator Murray supported short-term extensions of the original Patriot Act to ensure that law enforcement could continue to use the tools authorized by the Act.
In February 2006, a group of Republican Senators and the White House reached an agreement that made small improvements to the bill, but did not adequately address many of the most troubling provisions.
Yesterday, Senator Murray voted to improve the conference report when she voted for a bill offered by Senator John Sununu (R-NH). The Sununu bill passed and now awaits consideration in the House.
Today, the Senate voted on the same conference report that a bipartisan majority rejected in December. Consistent with her vote then, Senator Murray today again said the Senate can do better and pass a bill that reflects the common-sense balance of the original Senate legislation. Specifically, the conference report allows the government to obtain and track personal, medical, library and financial information about a person without having to justify to a court why that individual is being targeted. Second, the conference report would permanently extend the use of National Security Letters, which do not require the approval of a judge, grand jury or prosecutors. Third, the conference report does not adequately check the government's ability to use "sneak and peek" searches.
The vast majority of the Patriot Act is already permanent law and is unaffected by today's vote.