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NEAL CONAN, host:

This is TALK OF THE NATION. I'm Neal Conan in Washington.

Large portions of the USA Patriot Act could ride off into a sunset clause at the end of this year unless Congress intervenes, and Congress is considering doing just that. Passed a few weeks after the September 11 attacks, the Patriot Act was designed to make it easier to investigate terrorist plots and connect the dots. At the time, concerns about civil liberties led to the inclusion of sunset clauses for 16 parts of the law. Unless they're specifically renewed by Congress, those provisions expire at the end of this year.

Among them is the probably most controversial part of the Patriot Act: Section 215, known as the library provision. It allows the FBI to request library records, as well as health care, bank and Internet data, all without having to show probable cause or a reasonable suspicion, just that the records are needed for a terrorism investigation. Over the past few months, Congress has held a flurry of hearings on whether to retain, modify or get rid of the provision, and Pat Roberts of Kansas, the chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, introduced new legislation to expand the FBI's power to obtain a wide array of records without the approval of a judge or a grand jury. Critics of this so-called administrative subpoena say it would give the government unlimited access to personal records without the knowledge of those under investigation. The passionate feelings around the Patriot Act often boil down to a fundamental question: How do you balance security and civil liberties?

Later in the program, a look inside the new technology that lets airport screeners look inside your clothes.

But first, the future of the Patriot Act. If you have questions about whether it's working or not, or if you've been affected by this law, give us a call. Our number in Washington is (800) 989-8255; that's (800) 989-TALK. And the address is totn@npr.org.

Joining us in Studio 3A to help explain the latest developments is Richard Schmitt, a staff writer for the Los Angeles Times. He covers the Justice Department.

Thanks very much for coming in, Rick.

Mr. RICHARD SCHMITT (Los Angeles Times): Glad to be here, Neal.

CONAN: Hearings to review the Patriot Act were bound to create heat, or at least sparks, no matter what, but the proposed administrative subpoenas has really turned up the flames.

Mr. SCHMITT: It has. I think--you know, as a preliminary matter, I think what has caught people off-guard, I think, a bit is that the--you know, none of the 16 provisions that you mentioned--some of them have been high-profile and caught a lot of attention, like the library provision you mentioned, but nobody was talking about repealing the Patriot Act. You know, we weren't talking about a grand scale. And I think many people thought that the debate was more or less going to be sort of fought in the margins about the Patriot Act, and most people thought it was going to get approved without much controversy. Even moderate Democrats, such as Senator Dianne Feinstein of California, have said that, you know, she hasn't been able to really find any abuses associated with the Patriot Act. The Justice Department's own inspector general has said that we haven't found abuses, you know, so people thought it was going to basically sail through.

The administration had previously raised the idea of some expanded powers, but they have been sort of hiding in the weeds until recently, and they've emerged in the Senate Intel Committee over the last week or so, which is considering today a possible mark-up of the bill and may include this. And so that sort of raised the stakes and altered the debate a little bit in terms of more forward-looking about the impact of the administrative subpoenas and whether or not we want to be in an environment of expanding powers as opposed to sort of retrenching or scaling back.

CONAN: Well, explain what an administrative subpoena actually is.

Mr. SCHMITT: Yeah. Like a lot of the parts of the Patriot Act, you know, the Patriot Act is, you know, several hundred pages of legalese, and it's dense and it's arcane and it's even hard for us journalists sometime to figure out what the heck it means, you know, much less, you know, expecting the American public to gain a full understanding of it. But my best guess and understanding of administrative subpoenas--they've been used by a wide variety of mostly regulatory agencies throughout the federal government for a long time, in health-care investigations and, you know, bank fraud investigations.

CONAN: Medicare fraud.

Mr. SCHMITT: Exactly, right. And so the power's not new, but it is reasonably new to the FBI. You know, there are only a fairly discrete number of instances where the FBI sort of had the authority to issue administrative subpoenas. I think one is--an example is in child porn cases, for example. So their ability to do that has been fairly narrow, notwithstanding the argument that administrative subpoenas is a very common tool. And so essentially, administrative subpoena is an order from an agency; it's a demand for, you know, records or other materials to an individual to produce records, OK, and it's sort of as simple as that. It's to be distinguished from other kinds of devices that the government has to collect records.

There's been some discussion about a device called national security letters, which is another vehicle that the government has for collecting records, and it has been apparently an often used tool over the last three and a half years or so to collect records. OK. That's sort of a kind of subpoena, but as I understand it, it's a fairly narrowly tailored subpoena where the government has discrete areas, whether it be telephone records or bank records or whatever, where they can get information. What they're talking about with the administrative subpoena would broaden the universe of documents that the government could get using these administrative subpoenas, and so basically make it easier for the government to collect records in national security and terrorism cases, to collect a broader array of documents more easily than they would now.

CONAN: It would just increase the speed, basically, is what the government's saying.

Mr. SCHMITT: Increase the speed as well. That's right. Although, you know, national security letters, as I understand it, they're essentially sort of voluntary. It's a request to, let's say, a telephone company, like let's show us, you know, some information regarding this particular subscriber. And oftentimes, investigators will have a decent enough relationship with those kinds of vendors that it would get, you know, the information as a matter of course, and it's pretty quick, you know. And so--but I think the argument is in those cases where they meet some resistance, the administrative subpoena would be a more expeditious tool, you know, than--and then the crunch point comes where people will argue that, `Well, how many of those sorts of exigent circumstances are we encountering? You know, how often is it that you're not able to get what you want, notwithstanding all of the other power that you have?'

CONAN: Well, let's ask somebody. Let's, in fact, ask Chuck Rosenberg, the chief of staff to Deputy Attorney General James Comey. And he's on the line from his office here in Washington.

Thanks very much for being with us today.

Mr. CHUCK ROSENBERG (Chief of Staff To Deputy Attorney General James Comey): Well, my pleasure, Neal.

CONAN: How often do you need these kinds of powers?

Mr. ROSENBERG: Well, it's hard to say how often we're going to need something. You know, depending on a particular investigation, the way it goes, we may find that one tool works better than another. So one of the advantages to having these various arrows in our quiver is that, you know, we have options.

CONAN: Are there any examples that you know of where an investigation was impeded because the FBI couldn't get a subpoena without a judge's approval?

Mr. ROSENBERG: Well, I would say it more this way, Neal. It's just better at the outset to have the flexibility. It would be a little bit quicker. You know, in some districts, for instance, perhaps a grand jury isn't always sitting, and so if the FBI on its own can issue a national security letter or an administrative subpoena and they need something quickly, it's just a good option to have. But I agree with your first guest. I mean, in many cases, you know, the powers we already have--in many cases, not all--the powers we already have are, you know, sufficient.

CONAN: In testimony before the Senate Judiciary Committee last month, Attorney General Alberto Gonzales said he supports rewriting some of the language in the Patriot Act to clarify the language. There have been complaints that in some parts, it's a little vague.

Mr. ROSENBERG: Yes.

CONAN: Which parts is he worried about?

Mr. ROSENBERG: Well, I don't think he's worried about any of the parts. I mean, for instance, if we can make it clear under Section 215, the records provision...

CONAN: The so-called library provision.

Mr. ROSENBERG: The so-called library provision. If we can make it clear there that somebody who receives a 215 order from the court can challenge it in the FISA court and can contact an attorney to help him do so, I think that's something he would support. Now we've argued that implicit in Section 215 are those rights, and I think making it explicit is something that he would support.

CONAN: Our telephone number, if you'd like to join our conversation on renewal of provisions of the Patriot Act, is (800) 989-8255; (800) 989-TALK. The e-mail address is totn@npr.org.

And Bob from Washington, DC, is on the line with us. Or excuse me, Wilmington, Delaware. I can't even read today.

BOB (Caller): Hi. Good afternoon.

CONAN: Hi.

BOB: I was just calling about the administrative subpoena. I'm concerned that it's overblown. I work for a company--you know, I work in the drug industry, and we are subject to this sort of thing as it is, as are many regulated industries. You know, the agency that regulates us can basically walk in without cause, at will, and look at any records they ask to look at, and I realize there's a difference between doing that for a company and an individual, but my point is that this sort of power already exists and it--also it exists--it's--already some types of criminal matters as well. And I don't--I think the concern about adding terrorism investigations is what you're probably fairly--you know, there's fewer of them than other types of investigations is a bit overblown.

CONAN: So as far as your experience goes, Bob, this has not been abused.

BOB: No, no, not from a--if the regulatory agency starts abusing their powers, it's not that hard to make a stink about it and to bring it to somebody's attention.

CONAN: Thanks very much for the call. We appreciate it.

BOB: Sure.

CONAN: OK. And let me ask you, Chuck Rosenberg, has--we keep hearing that this library provision of the 215 has never been used.

Mr. ROSENBERG: Well, we have recently--and I don't remember, Neal, exactly how recently--but recently disclosed that we have used it a certain number of times, not that many, but never, as far as I know, to obtain records from book sellers or from libraries. But let me add one thing about it, and this is a good opportunity to do it. There's a great misperception about what we can and can't do with this authority. Understand that for decades--I was a federal prosecutor for a very long time. For decades, long before the Patriot Act ever became law, federal grand juries all around the country had the ability to subpoena all types of records, including perhaps, on very rare occasions the records of a library if an investigation logically led you there. You know, often it did not. Most crimes are not committed in libraries.

But in any event, those grand jury subpoenas were issued, by and large, on the signature of a federal prosecutor without judicial supervision. And I say that because by contrast, under the Patriot Act, under Section 215, if you want to issue an order or obtain an order to get those very same records, a federal judge has to authorize it. So ironically, the standard to get that order is higher, not lower, than it would be to issue a grand jury subpoena, and people miss that point all the time.

CONAN: We just have a few seconds left with you, but I did want to ask, there are a couple of parts of provisions of the Patriot Act where people are investigated--some of these records under administrative subpoenas, they wouldn't know about it. After a certain amount of time, shouldn't they be notified?

Mr. ROSENBERG: Well, I don't know if you're talking about administrative subpoenas or delayed notification search warrants.

CONAN: Both.

Mr. ROSENBERG: Well, let me talk about delayed notification search warrants. It's a very good example of another misperception, Neal. Delayed notice search warrants mean just that, notice is delayed. We cannot search anybody for anything without permission of a federal judge, you know, absent some sort of exigent circumstance. We want to do a search warrant, we go to a federal judge, and she authorizes it. If we also want to delay the notice, because in the normal case, we have to give notice immediately...

CONAN: Yeah. I'm afraid, Chuck Rosenberg, I know your time is limited. Our time is done. We'll be back with more on this after the break.

(Soundbite of music)

CONAN: This is TALK OF THE NATION. I'm Neal Conan in Washington.

I didn't mean to be so abrupt with Chuck Rosenberg in our departure, but we literally ran out of time. He's chief of staff to Deputy Attorney General James Comey at the Justice Department, and we thank him for taking time on a busy day to join us.

Justice Department officials were on Capitol Hill again today to testify about the FBI's use so far of the powers granted them under the USA Patriot Act. The most controversial of those powers expire at the end of this year, unless Congress renews them, so today we're talking about Patriot Act renewal and what the act has done thus far, what it may cover in the future.

Of course, you're invited to join us. Our number is (800) 989-8255; (800) 989-TALK. Our e-mail address is totn@npr.org. We'd especially like to hear from those of you who've had direct experience with the Patriot Act, as a librarian, a law enforcement officer or other capacities.

Our guest is Rick Smitt--a--Schmitt, excuse me, a staff writer who covers the Justice Department for the Los Angeles Times.

And joining us now is Peter Swire, and Peter Swire is--if I can find the right piece of paper I have here--Peter Swire is chief counselor for privacy in the Clinton administration and now a law professor at the Ohio State University Law School, and he's with us here in Studio 3A.

Nice to have you back on the program.

Professor PETER SWIRE (Ohio State University Law School): Glad to be here.

CONAN: These extensions of the Patriot Act--what gives you concern here?

Prof. SWIRE: Well, I think the one concern is that they've pointed to two comparisons, but these things are different, so there's been talk about how these administrative subpoenas for the FBI are like administrative subpoenas that we've had previously. The previous caller called in about the Food and Drug Administration can look at pharmaceuticals, for instance. But there's two big differences between these and all the ones we've ever had before.

The first one is that the Food and Drug Administration can go look at food and drug records or OSHA can look at worker records, but now the FBI can look at any records anywhere, so that's a lot broader. That's not just a narrow regulatory thing. That's any records in the economy that they say are relevant to any authorized investigation.

And the second difference is that these investigations stay secret forever under the law. The FDA caller called in and said that if there's a problem, if these go too far, he can make a stink about it. If you get one of these administrative subpoenas that the FBI's asking for, it's a crime to make a stink about it. It's a year in jail for saying anything about it. It's very different. It means the checks and balances simply don't exist.

CONAN: Rick Schmitt, I did want to ask you another question. As you said earlier, moderate Democrats--Dianne Feinstein of California--said they haven't been able to uncover any abuses of this. There has been concern, though, over applications of the Patriot Act to other violations of the law, investigating drug rings, that sort of thing--that these powers are not limited to investigating terrorism.

Mr. SCHMITT: Yeah. Somewhere in the debate, it shifted from all--everything was related to terrorism to, well, these tools have been long sought by law enforcement authorities and nobody ever said they were going to be exclusively used for terrorism-related activities. And I guess there is truth to that, and I think in a way, the Patriot Act was kind of a Christmas three that was all dressed up for, you know, federal law enforcement, that there had been various powers have been--that prosecutors and investigators have desired for years, and once something becomes, you know, part of the federal criminal code, I suppose a prosecutor looking down his--you know, in his tool box there, he's not going to, you know, determine which one was enacted by the Patriot Act and which one wasn't.

What I find, though, interesting also in the debate is, though, how the non-terrorism cases have been used as sort of--as a justification for renewing the Patriot Act now. For example, you were talking earlier about the so-called sneak-and-peek warrants or the so-called, you know, the delayed notification search warrants, and Attorney General Gonzales and I think some others have offered some very compelling examples of--about how those powers have been used, but used in a drug case, for example, as opposed to a terrorism case, you know, so there is--and so I think that's--you know, that sort of adds to the mystery of the debate and sort of the lack of satisfaction that I think maybe the public feels about how they feel about the law. They just don't know enough and they want to know more of how it's been used, you know, and I think, you know, similarly, the Justice Department has offered up statistical evidence showing that parts of the Patriot Act haven't been used all that often, you know, but sometimes the statistics don't tell the whole story. You mentioned 215 earlier, and the Justice Department said I think it's been used...

CONAN: I think that's the library provision.

Mr. SCHMITT: ...library provision, right, that it's been used maybe 40-some times, not against libraries, OK, and you think, well, that's not that often. You know, that can't be an abuse. On the other hand, I think there are other devices that the government can use to get the same information, you know, whether it be national security letters or even, you know, so-called voluntary interviews of librarians or whomever, which may not be so voluntary if a federal agent shows up at your door and says, `Hi. I'm from the federal government. Glad to see you. Now give me everything you've got on so-and-so.' You know, it takes an awfully strong and brave individual to stand up. And so anyway, yeah.

CONAN: Let's get another listener on the line. This is Jack. Jack's calling from Las Vegas.

JACK (Caller): Hi.

CONAN: Hi.

JACK: Glad to hear your show. The Patriot Act here in Las Vegas has been used for getting a hometown corruption of a strip owner--he has strip clubs in Las Vegas and in California. Local politicians were granting zoning favors for money, and they used the Patriot Act, which doesn't have anything to do with national security, for hometown corruption.

CONAN: This...

JACK: And I don't think that's right. Also, when they said we could raise a stink about issues that were involved, the agent said that--they just disclosed that some library information had been used, whereas they hadn't disclosed it before. So how can we raise a stink until they disclose?

CONAN: Yeah. Well, Peter Swire, the RICO law, the Racketeering Influence Corrupt...

Prof. SWIRE: Yeah.

CONAN: ...this was designed to attack the mob. It's been used for other things. What's wrong with applying one law--the law's the law.

Prof. SWIRE: Well, one problem is if something gets sold to do a narrow set of things and then it's used very broadly--it's called bait-and-switch in the private sector. So bait-and-switch is considered deceptive practices when people do it when they're selling you a car, and so you wonder whether it's a deceptive practice when they're selling you a statute. I mean, what happened with the Patriot Act is--I led a White House task force on a lot of these issues in 2000. And many of the provisions in the Patriot Act we considered. Some of them we liked and proposed to Congress. A bunch of them we thought needed to go back, have more work, be looked at more carefully, and now this year with the sunset, we're getting really a chance to look at them more carefully and fix a bunch of mistakes I think that were made in 2001.

CONAN: Jack, thanks very much for the call.

JACK: OK. Thank you.

CONAN: Bye-bye. Let's talk now with Adam. Adam's with us from Atlanta, Georgia. Adam, you there?

ADAM (Caller): Yeah, hello?

CONAN: Hi. You're on the air.

ADAM: Yeah.

(Soundbite of telephone hanging up)

CONAN: Hello? Adam apparently has gotten a little shy. Let's talk with Judy. Judy's calling from Wichita, Kansas.

JUDY (Caller): Hello.

CONAN: Hi, Judy. You're in the air.

JUDY: My husband has been in management about the operations end of local phone companies, and we were out in Washington state when 9/11 happened and when the Patriot Act came about, and he was very concerned about what they ever would do if they got one of these subpoenas, because state law says that you can't do that sneak-and-peek stuff. They can't put a tap on somebody's wire or Internet service without a subpoena in hand. And the Patriot Act says they have to just because somebody came in with one of these administrative orders, and he says that if--you know, say the case like the man in Oregon, who turned out not to be guilty and they went through his house and taken his computer records--if something like that happens, they might have recourse to sue the company, the phone company, for doing that tap because it's against state law. You know what I mean?

CONAN: Well, let me ask Peter Swire, with your law professor hat on, doesn't federal law trump state law?

Prof. SWIRE: Well, federal law can trump state law, and in this area, there have been a number of statutes passed over recent years, and the administrative procedure proposal often says that you have a safe harbor if you're complying with the federal requirements. You cannot be prosecuted under state law. They've taken care of that.

CONAN: So, Judy, it looks as if at least in that respect, there's nothing to worry about.

JUDY: OK.

CONAN: All right. Thank...

JUDY: I would be concerned that it's also used maybe not--maybe against political enemies.

Prof. SWIRE: I think that...

JUDY: Because all they have to do is say it's terrorism, and that's...

Prof. SWIRE: I think in the long run, that's one of the biggest concerns, right, if the FBI can see any records that they decide are relevant to an investigation, and they don't even have to go to the Justice Department. This is a big difference between what Mr. Rosenberg was talking about. He talked about grand jury subpoenas. Grand jury subpoenas, the FBI agent says, `We want to investigate.' The FBI agent has to get a prosecutor to say yes, and typically, you have to get the grand jury to say yes. But now with this new proposal, there's no prosecutor, there's no grand jury. It's the FBI acting special agent in charge all by himself that gets any records in the economy if he says it's relevant. There's no checks on that. I think it's really a mistake to go that way.

JUDY: Thank you.

CONAN: Thanks for the call, Judy. And one of the other provisions is, in fact, Rick Schmitt, that some people are concerned about is this--creation of this crime of domestic terrorism.

Mr. SCHMITT: There is a definition in the Patriot Act of domestic terrorism, and I think civil liberties groups are concerned that to the extent to which--that activities that they're involved in may lead to scuffles and violence or that it could come within the ambit of the Patriot Act. I'm not aware of any particular case where that's been, you know, applied or prosecuted, you know, based upon some act of domestic terrorism, but there is a fear out there that it's written in such a way that some creative, you know, federal prosecutor presented with a particular, you know, set of facts, you know, might try to press the envelope in that way.

CONAN: And again, you know, abuses of this are not widespread. There's not--as far as we know--any the examples of this, but there are concerns about this. And do we know of--we've been fortunate to escape any al-Qaeda attacks in this country since 9/11, but has the FBI or the Justice Department in testimony to Congress--have they been--a lot of these hearings have been behind closed doors, but have they been able to present evidence that says, `These laws were helpful in these kinds of investigations or thwarting these kinds of actions'?

Mr. SCHMITT: They've made their case. They've declassified more statistical information illustrating how many times they've used parts of the Patriot Act. I think--they've asserted, I think, perhaps the most important parts of the Patriot Act relate to so-called information sharing--that is, freeing up the ability of, you know, the criminal investigators at the FBI and the intelligence investigators to sort of marshal their information and that the net sum of that has facilitated terror investigations, you know, across the country. How all that works in practice, we really don't know much about that in terms of sort of a detailed understanding about how that has helped the government.

You know, I think--in fact, one of the reasons I think why the Senate Intelligence Committee is meeting in closed doors today to consider the Patriot Act is perhaps that they're examining some of these questions. They want to know, `So tell us how exactly has this been helpful or not helpful?'--whatever. Unfortunately, we're all sort of left on the outside scratching our heads, wondering, you know, how much has this really helped? And so there's a large sort of `trust me' element to this whole debate, I think, and...

CONAN: And the fact that investigations of alleged plots in Buffalo and elsewhere seem to have come somewhat unraveled.

Mr. SCHMITT: Well, they've--yeah, depending upon your perspective, you know, people that are involved in those prosecutions and others, you know, will debate a lot about how much of a threat individuals prosecuted in those cases and others, you know, have meant to the country, you know. But I think that, you know, it's still a case where we don't know very much about what's happening.

CONAN: We're talking about discussions in Congress about renewal of 16 provisions of the USA Patriot Act.

And you're listening to TALK OF THE NATION from NPR News.

And let's get another caller on the line, and this is Howard. Howard's with us from Ft. Lauderdale.

HOWARD (Caller): Yes. Can you hear me?

CONAN: Yes, you're on the air, Howard. Go ahead.

HOWARD: Real quick. I'm a law student, and extenuating circumstances, reasonable suspicion, probable cause--these all happen after the fact. The Patriot Act is supposed to balance the playing field so you can be preventative. Most law enforcement comes in after the fact. The crime's already done; the planes already flew into the tower. The whole idea behind this is to prevent it, and the liberals and Congress and the left just want to throw roadblocks. And I'm an extreme right-wing Republican conservative and I really support the Patriot Act and its goals. The government is not going to run amok. They're not going to run around and inspect your little marijuana-smoking weirdos in California. They're going to use this for the intent it's to be used for. Maybe you will have some prosecutors expanding on it like they expanded on RICO, but I really believe the act is needed and the liberals need to step out of the way and let the government run the war and stop being an impediment to it.

CONAN: Peter Swire, there's a fundamental point in there that this act was designed to aid intelligence investigations, not necessarily criminal proceedings, so that we can connect the dots before the next 9/11 attack.

Prof. SWIRE: Well, I'll first comment on who has political concerns about this. Many of the most vocal critics, of course, have been conservative Republicans, libertarians such as Bob Barr. Dick Armey's expressed concerns about it, Ron Paul in the House. And one reason is that within the Republican Party, there's this skepticism of big government and just saying `Trust me, I'm from the government' is not usually Republican slogans.

So, you know, it's a little bit funny how the politics here work. I think that in the long run, trying to have checks and balances, trying to make sure that we don't have unchecked power in the hands of the FBI expanded out, that's something that helps people all across the political spectrum.

CONAN: Mm-hmm. But what about...

Prof. SWIRE: On the preventive...

CONAN: What about that broader point on the preventive side of this?

Prof. SWIRE: Right.

CONAN: That's what a lot of this is intended to do.

Prof. SWIRE: Right. So as part of my research, as I've written law review articles on this, I went back and read J. Edgar Hoover, how he explained why we needed to really expand domestic surveillance during the '50s and '60s, and his big word was `prevention.' It's just sort of interesting. You know, it's like he was concerned very much about subversives instead of terrorists, and when the lid came off that and we found out 20 years later what he'd been investigating, you had hundreds of thousands of files opened on Americans with just the most nebulous or no connection to actual bad behavior. And I think the prevention paradigm in that instance turned out to be an excuse in many instances for people who seemed weird to the people running the FBI. And to sort of suddenly say prevention's going to be OK, that somehow we've solved the sort of problems we've seen in the past, it's not obvious to me that that's really going to work.

CONAN: OK. Howard, thanks very much for the phone call.

Rick, before we let you go, where does this stand? First of all, not only these provisions--they're holding hearings again today. This, obviously, all has to be done by the end of the year. Where does it stand? And there's another part of this. Larry Craig of Idaho, the Republican, also proposed something called the SAFE Act, which revised some of the provisions of the Patriot Act. Where does that stand?

Mr. SCHMITT: Well, the SAFE Act reflects a phenomena that Peter alluded to. I mean, it's basically a bipartisan bill led by Larry Craig, a Republican of Idaho, and Dick Durbin, Democrat from Illinois, that would, you know, scale back portions of the Patriot Act. And that has the support of the ACLU and conservative libertarians, and so that's out there as a wild card, or as part of the debates to be sure.

You know, we're going to go through a series of hearings and there's going to be--you know, the Intelligence Committee may come up with a bill today; the judiciary committees are moving apace with their hearings. You know, when all of this is going to come together is sort of anybody's guess. I guess my own, you know, handicapping of it would think that symbolically, the president might want to be signing a renewal of the Patriot Act somewhere around the time of the four-year anniversary of 9/11 this September.

Prof. SWIRE: Yes.

CONAN: Rick Schmitt, thanks very much for being with us.

Mr. SCHMITT: You bet.

CONAN: Richard Schmitt is a staff writer. He covers the Justice Department for the Los Angeles Times.

And, Peter Swire, nice to have you back on the program, chief counselor for privacy during the Clinton administration, now a law profession at the Ohio State University Law School.

When we come back from a short break, homeland security moves into the realm of science fiction, or at least as far as the back page of an old comic book. The application of X-ray spec technology to airline passenger screening. Grab your lead undies.

It's TALK OF THE NATION from NPR News.

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