Even before the September 11 attacks, law enforcement professionals realized that immediate and significant updates to existing laws related to surveillance, information sharing, and evidence collection were long overdue. It had become clear that outdated surveillance laws, combined with advances in telecommunications technologies, had begun to systematically erode law enforcement’s ability to carry out electronic surveillance orders. This erosion in surveillance capabilities often resulted in the loss of critically important evidence and significantly reduced the effectiveness of our law enforcement agencies.
In response to these concerns, Congress passed the USA Patriot Act. From the IACP’s perspective, the Patriot Act, which received overwhelming support in both the U.S. House of Representatives and the U.S. Senate, accomplished two critical tasks. First, it removed many of the statutory barriers that prevented effective intelligence and information sharing between federal, state, tribal, and local law enforcement agencies. As a result, the Patriot Act helped ensure that law enforcement and intelligence communities could legally share information and coordinate their efforts to protect communities around the nation. Over the last three years, we have witnessed an enhanced and growing cooperation between federal and nonfederal law enforcement agencies that would not have been possible without the information sharing provisions contained in the Patriot Act.
Second, the Patriot Act updated many surveillance laws to meet the challenges of modern technology and travel. In an age when terrorists have cellular, even satellite, phones, we must anticipate, out-think, and adapt to the new tactics and technology our terrorist foes might use. With the approval of a federal court, law enforcement officials can now track a terror suspect even when the target switches cell phones or moves from hotel to hotel to make his calls to avoid detection.
For more than three years, the Patriot Act has helped the law enforcement community coordinate, communicate, and uncover terrorist operations and other serious crimes. It has not, as many have suggested, dramatically eroded our civil liberties.
Unfortunately, the continuing success of the Patriot Act is not guaranteed. Congress is considering the reauthorization of 16 critical provisions of the Patriot Act that are set to expire at the end of 2005. If Congress fails to act, the provisions will expire automatically and, as a result, many of law enforcement’s investigative tools will return to pre-2001 levels. Failure to reauthorize the provisions of the act would reduce the abilities of our nation’s law enforcement agencies. This is unacceptable.
For these reasons, I urge IACP members to take a few moments to contact your representative and your senators and let them know how important it is to your department and law enforcement that they support reauthorization of the Patriot Act.
If you need help contacting your member of Congress, please visit the legislative section of the IACP Web site at (www.theiacp.org) and go to the Contact Congress page. There you will find information on how to contact your representatives as well as a sample letter on the need to reauthorize the Patriot Act.
I know that some may be uncomfortable in engaging in this type of activity and that it is often difficult to find the time to make these efforts. But I urge you to overcome these obstacles and to let your voice be heard on this critical issue.
There is no more effective public safety advocate than a police executive talking to his or her representative, since he or she possesses the expertise on law enforcement issues the representatives may lack. We have the ability to serve as a resource for our political leaders, to let them know which proposals would help us and which would hinder our ability to fulfill our mission.
In addition, as police leaders, we are responsible for protecting public safety. Thus, it is our duty to ensure that the laws that are enacted are sensible and will allow our agencies to successfully overcome the challenges confronting us and to effectively protect the citizens and communities we serve.
Reauthorization of the Patriot Act is critically important to the continuing success of our antiterrorism and crime-fighting efforts. If we, as a profession, fail to let our views be known, it is likely that we will lose many of the vital tools we have come to rely on.
The IACP has already made its support for the Patriot Act a well-known fact on Capitol Hill. Now Congress needs to hear from you.