Why There's No Need to Renew the PATRIOT Act by Friday


One of the most misleading claims in the PATRIOT Act debate is that if the law isn't reauthorized by Friday (when three of its most egregious provisions sunset), national security will be jeopardized. Majority Leader Harry Reid used this claim yesterday to justify cutting the debate time on the law: 

"I understand Senator Paul's exasperation because this is something that is extremely important to him and there was every desire from my perspective and I think this body to have a full, complete debate on the Patriot Act," Reid said on the Senate floor Tuesday night. "But the Senate doesn't always work that way. … We cannot let this Patriot Act expire. I have a personal responsibility to try to get this bill done as soon as possible…The time has come for me to take some action."

And here's The Hill's Tuesday story on reauthorizing PATRIOT: 

"The expiration of the law before the passage of an extension would create an upheaval in the law enforcement community, which relies on its authority to track suspected terrorists." 

Whether the provisions are reauthorized by midnight Friday is likely of little consequence to national security, as Julian Sanchez wrote in an excellent Cato paper on the topic

In the event that consensus has not been achieved when the new deadline arrives, there is little reason to believe their expiration would cause any near-term impediment to intelligence gathering: all three sunsetting provisions have been used fairly sparingly, and are, in any event, subject to a grandfather clause that would permit their continued use for investigations already underway.

It's possible that members of Congress doesn't realize this (several reauthorization supporters in the Senate have argued that allowing the provisions to lapse would be the worst thing to happen to America ever), but the lie has legs.