Attorney General defends PATRIOT Act, vows action on obscenity

By Sarah Lai Stirland, National Journal's Technology Daily

Attorney General Alberto Gonzales on Monday reiterated his belief that an anti-terrorism law Congress enacted after the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks has been successful in preventing additional attacks on American soil.

In a policy speech that outlined the department's coming priorities, Gonzales did not call outright for renewing the expiring provisions of the USA PATRIOT Act, and said he welcomes debate on the issue. But he reiterated comments made at his Senate confirmation hearing that he believes the law has been a success.

"We can say the PATRIOT Act is working; it has helped prevent additional terrorist attacks," he said at a luncheon organized by the Hoover Institution.

He added that while he would "support improvements to our laws that make America safer," he will not support changes "that would make America more vulnerable to terrorist attacks."

Debate over the renewal of the expiring provisions of the law likely will increase this year when Sens. Richard Durbin, D-Ill., and Larry Craig, R-Idaho, reintroduce a bill to curb some of the powers to pursue terrorism suspects given to investigatory authorities. A spokesman for Craig said his office hopes to reintroduce the bill in the next few weeks.

Gonzales did not get more specific about the bill in his speech but noted that the law's lowering of the wall between law enforcement and the intelligence community ensured its success. He also said the law has improved enforcement authorities' ability to fight terrorism by giving them the legal tools that have long been used to fight more traditional criminals.

During his speech, Gonzales said another priority for the department is the prosecution of cases against obscenity. He also outlined various other law enforcement initiatives but said nothing about criminal prosecutions of intellectual property infringement, which was high on the policy agenda of his predecessor.

Earlier this month, Justice announced that it intends to appeal a U.S. district court's dismissal of an obscenity case that it brought against Extreme Associates, a Los Angeles pornography production company.

In January, District Judge Gary Lancaster dismissed a 10-count indictment that charged the defendants with conspiracy to distribute obscene materials, three counts of mailing obscene films and six counts of transmitting obscene material over the Internet.

"I am strongly committed to ensuring the right of free speech," Gonzales said. "But obscene materials are not protected by the First Amendment, and I am committed to prosecuting these crimes aggressively."