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Sen. Specter Emerges as Key Civil Liberties Advocate in Patriot Act Markup

Sen. Arlen Specter (D-Pa.) just gave a remarkable speech at the Senate Judiciary Committee markup session explaining why he’s voting against reauthorization of the Patriot Act provisions because the substitute Leahy-Feinstein bill, which I described earlier today, doesn’t adequately protect American civil liberties.

Responding to Sen. Dianne Feinstein’s (D-Calif.) assurances that the bill, as proposed, is necessary and important based on classified information she’s received that can’t be shared with the American public, Specter demurred.

“We have moved a distance from where we were before, in requiring a foreign terror connection,” he said, noting that several provisions of the bill no longer require that. “In 2005, the bill was handled unanimously. The core of the bill required a connection with a foreign power. That’s really what we’re looking for here in the Patriot Act. When that requirement is taken away it seems to me it guts the structure of the Patriot Act. You have the provision of lone wolf, with no connection to a foreign power, which is the core of the patriots act. It hasn’t been used at all. It seems to me something this committee ought not rush to retain.”

As for “roving wiretaps,” Specter added that he opposed those back in 2001 because they failed to require the FBI to specify who they’re wiretapping. “The whole point of probable cause for search and seizure is probable cause with specificity,” said Specter. “Our committee ought to be more assertive as a guardian of separation of powers. This has a philosophical connection to what we’re doing on state secrets,” he said, referring to the state secrets privilege that the Justice Department has repeatedly asserted to dismiss lawsuits charging government wrongdoing. “Now all you have to do is have the executive branch assert state secrets and that closes the matter. … It’s still the executive branch, without judicial review to take a look.”

He continued, “I would hope this committee would be more assertive of the separation of powers under the Constitution.”

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