(CNSNews.com) – At a House hearing on Wednesday, local and federal law enforcement agencies asked Congress to extend two elements of the USA Patriot Act and make another permanent before they are set to expire on May 27.
“They’re necessary tools in the toolbox,” said hearing witness Edward Mullins, an NYPD officer who responded on 9/11 and currently the president of the Sergeants Benevolent Association of New York City.
“It’s no different than sending a police officer out every day with bullets in his gun,” Mullins told CNSNews.com following the hearing. “Hopefully, he doesn’t need them but if he does he has them.”
Signed into law following the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks on U.S. soil, most of the intelligence provisions of the law were made permanent under the USA Patriot Improvement and Reauthorization Act of 2005.
But three provisions of the law have merely been extended by Congress, and on Thursday, the House Judiciary’s crime, terrorism and homeland security subcommittee will vote on once again extending two provisions and making another one permanent.
The “FISA Sunsets Reauthorization Act of 2011” would extend Section 206, roving wiretaps, which allows continuous monitoring of changing cell phone numbers, for example, without a new court order; and it also would extend Section 215, which involves hotel, motel, car-rental and storage unit records requested in the course of a terrorism investigation.
The “lone wolf” provision of the Patriot Act, which allows the investigation of individuals who may not be affiliated with a named terrorist organization, would be made permanent under the legislation.
Other law enforcement groups that submitted written endorsements into the Congressional record in support of the Patriot Act include the Society of Former Special Agents of the Federal Bureau of Investigation, Federal Law Enforcement Officers Association, Federal Bureau of Investigation Agents Association and the National Association of Assistant United States Attorneys.
“Since the Sept. 11, 2001 terrorist attacks, federal law enforcement agencies have effectively utilized three sections of the Patriot Act, namely: the business records provision, the roving wiretap provisions and the lone wolf surveillance provision,” Lester Davis, president of the former FBI agent organization, said in his letter to the House Judiciary Committee.
“To place new restrictions and requirements on these sections of the Act would be detrimental to federal law enforcement efforts to detect and prevent future terrorist attacks,” Davis said.
Konrad Motyka, president of the FBI agents association, wrote about the “importance of reauthorizing” the expiring portions of the law and calling the business records provision a “vital tool in the war on terror.”
The association of Assistant U.S. Attorneys referred to its letter in support of renewing the Patriot Act in 2005. “It certainly is not coincidental that the United States has not been attacked since September 11.”
In his organization’s letter, Mullins said the death of Osama bin Laden means that the Patriot Act is more, not less, important because of the possibility of revenge for the death of the terrorist behind 9/11 and who, it is now believed, played a role in numerous terrorist or attempted terrorist acts around the world following the attacks that killed almost 3,000 people in New York, Washington, D.C. and in Pennsylvania.
In his written testimony, Mullins spoke of responding to the 1993 attack on the World Trade Center and on 9/11, when the death toll included 343 firefighters and 72 federal, state and local law enforcement officers, including, 37 members of the Port Authority Police Department and 23 members of the NYPD.
Mullins said people, including first responders, continue to die from debilitating diseases caused from exposure to toxins – grim statistics that “remind us that our countrymen have died in large numbers and continue to die as a result of a very real war that terrorists declared upon America.”
Democrats on the subcommittee criticized the legislation, including Ranking Member John Conyers (D-Mich.), who introduced a “compromise” bill late Tuesday.
“(The Republicans’) bill would make no improvements to the Patriot Act,” Conyers said in his prepared remarks. “It includes no new protections for privacy.
“It requires no report to Congress,” Conyers said. “I do not support this approach.”