WASHINGTON – Critics of the USA Patriot Act (search) on Tuesday called for the Senate to temper the anti-terrorism law's provisions that let police conduct secret searches of people's homes or businesses, but defenders say since no abuses have been documented the law should be renewed.
The Bush administration wants Congress to make permanent all 15 provisions of the law that expire at the end of the year, some of which have aroused civil liberties concerns among liberals and conservatives. The law's national standards for what are sometimes known as "sneak and peek" searches are permanent.
Sens. Larry Craig, R-Idaho, and Dick Durbin, D-Ill., told the Senate Judiciary Committee that while they cannot show any specific abuses, the anti-terrorism law is written in a way that could allow abuses.
"Our law cannot be written for the best and the brightest. They must also anticipate enforcement from the worst and the weakest," said Craig, who is pushing a bill with Durbin that would scale back some of the Patriot Act's powers.
Critics of the law want Congress to pass the SAFE Act (search) to limit the Patriot Act in several ways, including requiring government officials to inform suspects about the "sneak and peek" (search) searches within seven days if a judge does not intervene. The current law does not specify when the government has to inform suspects about the secret search.
"We do not want to end the Patriot Act. We want to mend the Patriot Act," Durbin said.
Sen. Jon Kyl, R-Ariz., defended the anti-terrorism law, saying that since no one can come up with specific abuses, the expiring provisions should be renewed.
"In this particular area because there has been no problems, it seems to be me that the assumption underlying the sunset provisions ought to move forward, which is, there being no problems, the act ought to be reauthorized," Kyl said.
The Justice Department has said that the courts authorized 155 delayed search warrants under the Patriot Act through January.