Dear Dr. Graviss,
Thank you for contacting me regarding the extension of the USA PATRIOT Act. I appreciate hearing from you, and I welcome the opportunity to respond.
In the aftermath of the terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001, the PATRIOT Act provided our government with powerful new tools to combat terrorism. In the past, some of those tools were unfortunately abused. Such abuse is entirely unacceptable to me.
I am unequivocally committed to preventing terrorist attacks on our homeland, and I am confident that we can protect our nation without violating the privacy rights and civil liberties that are at the foundation of our democracy and to which every American is entitled. That is why I am committed to holding those using the authorities provided in the PATRIOT Act accountable if the authorities are abused, but have not been prepared to rescind all of the authorities because, when used lawfully, they can prove important to keeping Americans safe from terror attacks.
Recently, the Senate passed and the President signed into law H.R. 514, extending three provisions of the PATRIOT Act until May 27, 2011. This legislation addresses the use of roving wiretaps of terrorism suspects, increased seizure of evidence against such suspects; and surveillance of non-U.S. suspects not yet linked to an identifiable terrorist organization. I supported this legislation because I believe it grants our intelligence officials the power to protect us from terrorism without infringing unlawfully on Americans' civil liberties.
Importantly, the government may not utilize any of the intelligence-gathering tools authorized by the PATRIOT Act without prior approval through courts set up by the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act (FISA). These courts, composed of eleven federal court judges appointed by the Chief Justice of the United States to serve single seven-year terms, receive and approve or reject requests from intelligence agencies to employ PATRIOT Act authorities against terrorism suspects. The submitted applications, though classified, ensure that there is a comprehensive prior review every time the government authorizes a multipoint wiretap, broadened evidence seizure, or surveillance of foreign terrorism suspects who may be acting alone. I am confident that the FISA court system enables our intelligence officials to gather intelligence without violating our constitutional rights.
As a former prosecutor, I understand that the Constitution places the burden on the State to establish a probable cause before any search or seizure of evidence. It is essential that intelligence agencies combat terrorism in a manner consistent with our laws and traditions. I look forward to providing necessary oversight, and I will keep your concerns in mind should further extensions of the Patriot Act reach the Senate floor.
Again, thank you for contacting me. Please do not hesitate to contact me in the future if I can be of further assistance to you on this or any other issue.