Deputy Attorney General James B. Comey

Lots of words have been spilled over the Patriot Act, in many different forums. We spill more here. And although sparing trees is a worthy cause, we further another important cause with the publication of this series—to inform the public about a critical step our Congress took when it overwhelmingly passed the Patriot Act, in the wake of the horrific attacks of September 11, 2001. Simply, the Patriot Act bolsters our law enforcement and intelligence capabilities and better protects America against senseless terrorist violence. It is an important and worthy Act, and so it is appropriate to debate and understand it, to get beyond bumper stickers to a genuine understanding of a complicated Act.

To my dismay, it has seeped into the nation's drinking water that the Patriot Act requires a tradeoff between civil liberties and privacy on the one hand, and the protection of national security, on the other hand. I reject that. The men and women of the Department of Justice do great work, and care passionately about the civil liberties and freedoms of our fellow Americans. The Patriot Act, which we use and enforce, requires no such tradeoff. It allows us to serve and to protect, to borrow a phrase, and it is fully consistent with our reverence for civil liberties and individual freedoms. Why? Built into the Patriot Act, by our Congress, are numerous protections that ought to give great comfort to all citizens.

Some of those protections are misunderstood or overlooked, but they are very much in place. For instance, to execute a search and then delay notification to the target of that search—something law enforcement has long been able to do when the facts justify it - the FBI must first apply to a federal judge and obtain permission. The same holds true if the FBI wants to conduct roving electronic surveillance or to obtain records under the Patriot Act's business records provision.

At the same time that federal judges are looking over one shoulder, the Congress is looking over our other shoulder. We are required to report to the Congress at regular intervals on our use of these—and other provisions—of the Patriot Act. That is healthy and proper, and helps ensure that we use these important tools in a responsible manner, consonant with the civil liberties we hold so dear. Within the Department of Justice, our Inspector General is also required, by the terms of the Act, to monitor our use of the Patriot Act, and receive and investigate allegations of abuse.

Good lawyers never shy from debates, and this is a particularly good time to debate this important act. Some of the most important provisions of the Patriot Act are due to expire at the end of this year, so we ought to be talking and writing and thinking about it every chance we get. With respect to the Patriot Act, the angel—not the devil—is in the details. If all participants in the discussion demand those details and move beyond slogans to an understanding of how these tools are used, and why they matter so much, our country will be well served.

Enjoy the words of the wise men and women who have contributed to this discussion and to this series.