We Must Reform the PATRIOT Act

Later today, the U.S. Senate will take a step toward reauthorizing the most controversial provisions of the PATRIOT Act for four more years. The Senate may not allow any amendments to fix the problematic portions of this law. We must take action -- today -- to demand the opportunity to reform the PATRIOT Act, before we extend its provisions.

Join me by signing my petition to demand that Congress better protects our privacy by reforming the PATRIOT Act.

Benjamin Franklin once said that any society that would give up essential liberties to pursue security deserves neither and will lose both. Those words ring true today.

Don't get me wrong -- just like you, I'm a strong defender of our national security. With my seats on the Senate Armed Services Committee and the Intelligence Committee, much of my focus remains on keeping Americans safe, both here and abroad. Our government does need the appropriate surveillance and anti-terrorism tools to achieve that important goal.

But while many of the PATRIOT Act's provisions -- which I support -- have made our nation safer since the devastating terrorist attacks of 9/11, there are three provisions that fail to strike the right balance between keeping us safe while protecting the privacy rights of Coloradans. Instead, these three provisions have been far too susceptible to abuse by the federal government, even in the name of keeping us safe from terrorism.

If Congress passes a bill without debate this week to extend the PATRIOT Act until 2015, it would mean that for four more years, the federal government will continue to have almost unfettered right to issue "215 orders," which allow the government to demand "any tangible thing" during an investigation. Under this flawed provision the government can acquire credit reports, medical records, business records and even library records, without any connection to terrorism or suspicion of wrongdoing -- all outside the public eye.

Under another provision, the federal government will continue to have broad authority to place roving wiretaps on essentially any phone line, without specifying a single suspect or a particular communications device.

The final provision would reauthorize "lone wolf" authority, which allows the government to conduct wiretap surveillance on individuals even when that person has no connection to a government or terrorist organization. What is worse, Congress will not even be notified if such "lone wolf" authority is being used -- preventing critical oversight and protection of civil liberties.

These three provisions are troubling because they are ripe for abuses that involve expansive government surveillance of innocent people, even though common sense fixes and protections exist if only we were allowed to debate them.

Amazingly, most Republicans want to make these three problematic PATRIOT Act provisions permanent, without any additional congressional oversight. That just defies Colorado common sense.

I opposed the original passage of the PATRIOT Act after 9/11, based largely on my belief that Congress was granting powers to the executive branch that would lead to abuse of Coloradans' privacy rights and that shielded the government from accountability. In the nearly ten years since Congress passed the PATRIOT Act, there has been very little opportunity to improve it.

Based on what I've learned from my Senate committee service, I believe that these three PATRIOT Act provisions expand the reach of the federal government too far without sufficient congressional oversight.

You join me by signing my petition to demand that Congress better protects our privacy by reforming the PATRIOT Act

Together, we must lead the way toward requiring real reform of the PATRIOT Act and demand that the executive branch explains the legal basis for its use of these far-reaching intelligence collection tools.

Our brave men and women in uniform continue to fight for people's freedom abroad. But we also must fight to protect our civil liberties and privacy rights from unnecessary government encroachment here at home. Let's lead the way.