As you know, few hearings on the specific provisions of the USA Patriot Act have been held. A press release from Zoe Lofgren, a Democratic Congressperson from San Jose, says that the House Judiciary Committee has finally agreed to hold hearings on all of the provisions of the Patriot Act, including those set to sunset in December 2005.
Proponents of the Patriot Act are sure to re-introduce legislation to remove the sunset provisions, and make the those provisions permanent. There were also many attempts in the 108th Congress to amend or ameliorate the provisions of the Patriot Act most troubling to defenders of civil liberties. See No Action Yet on Patriot Act.
Criticisms of the Patriot Act have been that is was not well thought out, not publicly debated, and was passed quickly and with no time for review. All prior attempts to conduct thoughtful debate have failed. The Committee has a broad agenda, including conducting
- "a series of classified and non-classified hearings before the August recess to examine whether the expiring provisions of the USA PATRIOT Act should be renewed. Among the areas of inquiry will be a review of the effectiveness of the USA PATRIOT Act powers and how responsibly they have been applied by the Department.
- In addition, the Subcommittee (and full Committee) will conduct a series of classified and non-classified hearings before the August recess to examine whether changes should be made to non-expiring provisions of the USA PATRIOT Act, including expanded surveillance powers such as pen register searches and roving wiretaps and delayed notice search warrants."
Although the Committee's agenda could lean towards retaining and further enhancing the reach and range of PATRIOT Act surveillance tools, rather than focus on correcting the PATRIOT Act's incursions into civil liberties, both questions have actually been posed. At the very least, there will finally be some public debate in Congress on the provisions of the Act and how it has actually been used.
Added February 8:
Jack Stephens of Conservator apparently thinks that a 2003 e-mail from the ACLU to Dianne Feinstein, allegedly stating the ACLU had no instances of actual abuse of the Patriot Act to report, obviates the need for public debate on the Patriot Act completely. I disagree. The potential for abuse is more than sufficient to make debate necessary and meaningful. In addition, there have been instances of abuse where suits have been filed, and sections of the Patriot Act (505, below, and 805) have been declared unconstitutional (as Jack Stephens has posted). For more instances, just go to the Department of Justice and look at their reports. Section 215, like 505, has a gag order provision, making challenges (and actual instances) difficult to bring. Nevertheless, in Doe v. Ashcroft, section 505 (regarding National Security Letters, long abhorred by librarians) was held unconstitutional, and there is a suit pending regarding section 215.