The Patriot Act was created to give federal authorities better tools to deal with the threat of terrorism, America's top general says, but concerns about the act should be taken seriously.
"It ought to be continually debated," Gen. Richard Myers said late Friday during a question-and-answer session near the end of the Lawrence Chamber of Commerce's annual meeting at the Lawrence Holidome, 200 McDonald Drive.
Nearly 300 communities, including Lawrence, have called for repeal of portions of the Patriot Act that critics say infringe on civil liberties.
Myers noted Lawrence's opposition, but added: "I'm not the Patriot Act guy." He deferred to Sen. Pat Roberts, R-Kan, who was also at the meeting.
Roberts said the Patriot Act made it easier for government agencies such as the FBI and CIA to share information that might prevent terror attacks. And agents would need a judge's authorization to use some of the act's more controversial features, and he added the law had not been used unfairly.
The threat of new terrorist attacks on American soil is very real, he said.
"We have sleeper (terrorist) cells in this country," said Roberts, chairman of the Senate Intelligence Committee.
Their comments came the same week the Lawrence City Commission passed a resolution calling on Congress to amend the Patriot Act to "restore and protect our nation's fundamental and inalienable rights."
The resolution takes exception to several provisions of the law, including one that allows the FBI to seek records from libraries and bookstores. The resolution directs the Lawrence Public Library to put up signs warning patrons their checkout records could end up in federal hands.
A library official said Saturday those signs had not been posted yet. Mayor Mike Rundle was seen Friday in City Hall signing copies of the resolution to send to President Bush and members of the Kansas congressional delegation.
Commissioner Boog Highberger attended Friday's chamber meeting, but said Saturday that he heard nothing from Myers or Roberts to make him reconsider his support for the resolution.
Highberger said Patriot Act provisions posed "a threat to our civil liberties and need to be reconsidered."
"I still stand by our decision," Highberger said. "The act was passed very shortly after 9-11 with very little debate, and I think some oversights were made."
Commissioner David Schauner, also in attendance at Friday's meeting, agreed.
"If you read the resolution, it's an affirmation of our commitment to the U.S. Constitution," Schauner said. "If abandonment of civil rights is patriotic, we need to rethink our use of the word 'patriotism.'"