This editorial first appeared in the Anchorage Daily News:
Congress and President Bush are headed in different directions with the Patriot Act, and that's good news for the civil liberties of the American people. The nation needed to tighten up its security laws after the attacks of Sept. 11, 2001, but many members of Congress have come to recognize that they got stampeded into going too far.
Some of the more controversial provisions will sunset soon unless Congress renews them - a rare concession to civil liberties when the Patriot Act passed. President Bush has begun campaigning hard to renew those provisions. He is also pushing for a second Patriot Act, giving the government even more powers to investigate Americans with less court oversight.
Contrary to the president's wishes, Congress is busy working to correct excesses of the original Patriot Act. The House voted earlier this month to suspend enforcement of a particularly notorious provision, Section 215, which allows secret searches of library and bookstore records. Alaska's Don Young was one of 38 Republicans who joined all but one Democrat in voting to correct this especially notable affront to civil liberties. President Bush has threatened to veto the bill containing the Section 215 enforcement restriction.
Alaska Sen. Lisa Murkowski also has championed reform of the Patriot Act. She sponsored a reform bill in 2003 and signed onto a similar measure earlier this spring. The reforms she wants include scaling back the power to conduct secret searches of library and bookstore records. She also wants to roll back the part that makes it too easy for overzealous government agents to brand civil disobedience protests as acts of "terrorism."
With President Bush stumping so hard for more Patriot Act powers, is Sen. Murkowski worried about getting crosswise with her president?
"There's a lot of White House pressure," says spokeswoman Kristin Pugh. "But the senator believes the Patriot Act needs to be amended and won't cave to that pressure."
Ms. Pugh noted that many Alaska communities and the state Legislature have gone on record endorsing Patriot Act reforms.
"The senator doesn't want people's personal liberties encroached upon if they don't have to be," Ms. Pugh says. "It's a fine balance."
Congress got that balance wrong with the original Patriot Act. It's good to know that Rep. Young and Sen. Murkowski are working to restore at least some of the civil liberties Americans have lost - even if it means bucking their president.