June 17, 2005
Regula, Ney at odds on Patriot Act vote
By Paul M. Krawzak
Copley News Service
And Shane Hoover
WASHINGTON — The area’s two Republican congressmen maintained their disagreement over the Patriot Act this week, as Rep. Bob Ney joined with Democrats to restrict searches of library and bookstore records permitted by the anti-terrorist law.
Rep. Ralph Regula opposed repeal of the controversial search provision in the first of what is likely to be a series of votes on 16 provisions in the law that expire at the end of the year unless they are renewed.
The exciting thing about the House vote to block government searches of library records was that politicians crossed party lines to do it, said Kent Oliver, executive director of the Stark County District Library.
“It shows, I think, how poorly written this section of the Patriot Act seems to be,” Oliver said.
Oliver has been involved in the American Library Association’s lobbying effort against the Patriot Act. He chairs the association’s committee on intellectual freedom.
The section of the act concerning library records seemed to capture the public’s attention because it was easy to relate to, Oliver said. Who hasn’t checked a book out of a library?
The debate over the library provision doesn’t end with the House vote. The Senate and President Bush need convincing as well.
“We’re all opposed to terrorism,” Oliver said. “But we need to balance that with our civil liberties.”
If the House-passed restriction survives to become law, it would prohibit federal investigators from seizing records of a suspect’s reading habits without a search warrant issued by a judge or a grand jury subpoena.
The repeal, contained within a spending bill approved Wednesday, faces serious obstacles. President Bush has threatened to veto any bill that contains it. The Senate has yet to approve its own version of the legislation.
And aides to House Republican leaders said they would seek to remove the restriction when negotiators meet to resolve differences in House and Senate versions of the legislation.
Under the Patriot Act, investigators can obtain a wide range of records, including medical records, genetic information, membership lists of organizations and information from libraries and bookstores, through an order issued by the secretive federal Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court.
“There’s plenty of protections” in the act, said Regula, R-Bethlehem Township, explaining Thursday why he voted against changing it. “But there are instances where they (investigators) can gain information that may save somebody’s life.”
Ney, R-St. Clairsville, one of just three Republican congressmen who voted against the Patriot Act in 2001, called the library provision unnecessary.
“Everybody’s against terrorism, but there has to be reason in the way that we fight it,” he told the Washington Post. “The government doesn’t need to be sifting through library records.”
Even though the Justice Department says it never has used the law to inspect library records, the agency defended the provision as an “important tool for investigating and intercepting terrorism” in a letter to Congress.
“Bookstores and libraries should not be carved out as safe havens for terrorists and spies, who have, in fact, used public libraries to do research and communicate with their co-conspirators,” U.S. Assistant Attorney General William E. Moschella wrote.
Moschella added that any use of the law must be approved by the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court, “ensuring an independent check” on investigators.
But the American Civil Liberties Union, an opponent of the provision, argues that the check carries little weight. Timothy H. Edgar, an ACLU attorney, said judges in the court are required to approve searches whenever records are sought for a national security investigation.
Like Ney, the area’s Democratic lawmakers, Reps. Sherrod Brown of Lorain, Ted Strickland of Lisbon and Tim Ryan of Niles, voted to restrict the government’s authority to obtain records without a search warrant.
Regula and Strickland voted for the Patriot Act when it passed Oct. 24, 2001. Ney and Brown opposed it. Ryan had not yet been elected to Congress.