Debate Heats Up Over 'Sunsetting' Parts of Patriot Act

Officials Say Patriot Act Concerns Are Unfounded

President Bush, former Attorney General John Ashcroft and his successor Alberto Gonzales and federal law enforcement officials have defended the Patriot Act, saying concerns about supposed threats to civil liberties are unfounded, and arguing that the powers it provides law enforcement are necessary to keep the country safe.

"Since September the 11, federal terrorism investigations have resulted in charges against more than 400 suspects, and more than half of those charged have been convicted," Bush told a group of Ohio police during a recent speech in defense of the Patriot Act.

The Washington Post disputed the president's numbers, though, reporting that an examination of federal court records found just 39 people who have been convicted on terrorism charges since the Sept. 11 attacks. Another approximately 180 people whose convictions were classified as terrorism convictions were actually convicted on lesser charges, the paper said.

There also has been question about how often some of the powers given to law enforcement have been used, which civil liberties groups say is troubling because of the secrecy built into many of the Patriot Act's sections.

Gonzales, for example, said that federal authorities have yet to use Section 215 to investigate anyone's reading habits, but Ashcroft once told a congressional committee the section had been used dozens of times.

A recent study commissioned by the American Library Association found federal, state or local law enforcement had made at least 137 legally executed requests for information on individuals' book-borrowing habits from public and academic libraries since the Patriot Act was passed.

"We now know with certainty that law enforcement is visiting libraries and asking for information on library patrons," Emily Sheketoff, executive director of the ALA Washington Office, said in a statement announcing the results of the study. "We must ensure that the proper oversight is in place to ensure that the government doesn't conduct 'fishing expeditions' at America's libraries."

Hamdani, who said she felt her family had "just about" achieved the American dream before her son was killed at the World Trade Center, said she is optimistic that the changes she believes are needed in the Patriot Act will be made.

"There are amendments being introduced to rectify it," she said. "This is a land of freedom, of opportunity."

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