Bush to Congress: Renew Patriot Act
COLUMBUS, Ohio (CNN) -- President Bush on Thursday called on Congress to reauthorize the 16 provisions of the USA Patriot Act that are slated to expire at the end of the year, calling them "practical, important and ... constitutional."
"Congress needs to renew them all and, this time, Congress needs to make the provisions permanent," Bush told an audience of about 150 officers at the Ohio State Highway Patrol Academy in Columbus.
Bush said the act, passed six weeks after the September 11, 2001, terrorist attacks, "closed dangerous gaps in America's law enforcement and intelligence capabilities."
He said that authorities have used the act to bring terrorism charges against 400 people, with more than half of those charges leading to convictions.
Since its passage, "America's law enforcement and intelligence personnel have proved that the Patriot Act works, that it was an important piece of legislation," Bush said.
He credited the act with helping federal, state and local law enforcement authorities "break up terror cells in New York and Oregon and Virginia and in Florida."
He added, "The Patriot Act has accomplished exactly what it was designed to do: it has protected American liberty and saved American lives."
Specifically, the act broke down a "bureaucratic wall" between law enforcement and intelligence that has resulted in better sharing of information, he said.
Further, the act allowed agents to set up "roving wire taps," which let authorities monitor the communications of terrorist suspects who use different cell phones without requiring they first obtain separate authorizations to tap each phone.
And the act allows Internet providers to help law enforcement officials trace threatening e-mails without risking a lawsuit, Bush said.
Bush noted that Congress oversees the application of the act, and he said he would soon name five people to serve on a federal board created by Congress to ensure that Americans' privacy and civil liberties are respected.
"Sen. Dianne Feinstein worked with civil rights groups to monitor the use of the Patriot Act; here's what she said: 'We've scrubbed the area, and I have no reported abuses,'" Bush said.
"Remember that the next time you hear someone make an unfair criticism of this important, good law."
The Democrat from California did indeed make that comment about a year ago, after the American Civil Liberties Union approached her for support in opposing the act, said Howard Gantman, a spokesman for Feinstein.
"We basically said we've very much like to hear about specifics," Gantman said. "The ACLU then, for really over a year, had no specific abuses they could point to. On their behalf, I'd say one of their problems, like us, is we have a helluva time getting information from the Justice Department about what was going on there."
The ACLU, in a posting on its Web site, said the Bush administration and former Attorney General John Ashcroft "essentially refused to describe how it was implementing the law; it left numerous substantial questions unanswered, and classified others without justification.
"In short, not only has the Bush administration undermined judicial oversight on government spying on citizens by pushing the Patriot Act into law, but it is also undermining another crucial check and balance on surveillance powers: accountability to Congress and the public."