Web Video: The Beginning of the Patriot Act

Jun. 02, 2015 AT 8:04 p.m. EDT
As Congress debates portions of the PATRIOT Act that expired this week, we look back in the Washington Week Vault to the day President George W. Bush signed the bill into law in 2001. The nation, just weeks after the September 11 attacks, was looking for information to track down the terrorists responsible for the attack. NPR's Barbara Bradley explained why then-Attorney General John Ashcroft supported the law. The PATRIOT Act will allow law enforcement "to trace email messages from place to place, making it easier to surveil people for intelligence purposes," she said. Over a decade later, the portions of the PATRIOT Act that allow for bulk collection of phone metadata are at the center of the debate about how much data the government should have.

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Notice: Transcripts are machine and human generated and lightly edited for accuracy. They may contain errors.

GWEN IFILL, host: War at home. War abroad. Is either one under control? The latest on the investigation. Congress passes a sweeping new anti-terrorism bill as the international hunt continues for the terrorists behind the September 11th attacks and for the source of the latest wave of bioterrorism.

GWEN IFILL, host: Congress, the White House and the Pentagon have all been mighty busy this week, but what more do we know after a week of shifting messages concerning health, politics and war? Today the president signed a big, new anti-terrorism bill that would expand the government's ability to track down terrorists, but at some cost. This is what the president had to say today.

(Excerpt from videotape)

President GEORGE W. BUSH: This is a two-front war. It's a two-front war. And it's a war we're going to win on both fronts. But make no mistake, the best way to make sure we protect our homeland is to succeed by bringing the terrorists abroad who try to strike us to justice.

(End of excerpt)

IFILL: Barbara, what is in this new anti-terrorism bill that would presumably help investigators get to the bottom of all this?

Ms. BARBARA BRADLEY (National Public Radio): There--there's a lot in this bill. Attorney General John Ashcroft absolutely loves it. He said the hour this thing is signed I'm going to instruct law enforcement how to use the--these new powers. Some of them are being able to trace e-mail conversa--or e-mail messages from place to place, making it easier to surveil people for terrorist purposes, for intelligence purposes. One of the interesting things I think we're going to see that will immediately affect this investigation is the sharing of information between the intelligence gatherers--the CIA, the NSA and other places--and the FBI. What they've done is they've lowered the wall between the two, which means, for example, as one--as one high-level Justice Department person said yesterday, `We have files.' The intelligence people have files that we are ready to--they are ready to hand over to the criminal people. What that means is they can take that and suddenly they have a lot of new leads.


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