Attorney General Alberto R. Gonzales said yesterday that bombings in London and Egypt make a strong case for renewing the post-September 11 law that critics say infringes on civil liberties.
Mr. Gonzales also credited the USA Patriot Act with preventing a follow-up in the United States to the September 11 terrorist attacks that killed nearly 3,000 people.
The House voted 257-171 last week to extend the law indefinitely but limit to 10 years two of its most contentious provisions: allowing federal agents to use roving wiretaps and to search library and medical records. Those provisions are set to expire at the end of the year.
The Senate Judiciary Committee cleared its own extension of the law and called for Congress to re-examine the wiretap and library provisions after four years.
The full Senate is likely to vote on its version of the bill in the fall.
“We believe that the Patriot Act has been an effective tool, and it’s one reason that there has not been another domestic attack here in the United States,” Mr. Gonzales said on CNN’s “Late Edition.”
Among its benefits, he said, are provisions encouraging law-enforcement authorities and intelligence officials to share information they previously could not exchange.
“And because we’re able to share information more effectively, we’re able to connect the dots and to detect and deter additional terrorist attacks,” Mr. Gonzales said.
Although the administration will accept only changes that make clarifications, “I’ve always been very clear, very consistent in saying that I could not support provisions or changes, amendments to the act, that would weaken the act,” Mr. Gonzales said on “Fox News Sunday.”
“It would make it more difficult to protect America against these kinds of threats, against these kinds of attacks,” he added.
One of the Patriot Act’s most debated elements, known as the “library provision,” permits secret warrants for “books, records, papers, documents and other items” from businesses, hospitals and other organizations.
Although it does not specifically mention bookstores or libraries, critics in both parties say the government could use the provision to subpoena library and bookstore records and peek at the reading habits of innocent people.
Mr. Gonzales said he was as concerned about privacy rights as anyone else but, he told CNN, “We cannot allow libraries and computers at libraries [to] become safe haven for terrorists.”
He cited an example of terrorists who used library computers, thinking them to be protected from government searches. He reiterated that he would consider certain, clarifying amendments to the provision, but he argued against its outright removal.
“To take it away as a tool from the law-enforcement community I think would be counterproductive and would make America less safe,” he said.