Battle Looms in Congress Over Renewal of USA ‘Patriot’ Act
CONGRESSWILL BE DELIBERATING whether the infamous Patriot Act should be renewed in its entirety later this year, and already watchdog groups and some Democrats are champing at the bit for a fight.
The House and the Senate are holding committee hearings to investigate whether legislators should renew three controversial sections of the Patriot Act, which are due to expire at the end of 2009.
The provisions in question expand the power of the FBI to seize records like what Americans read at libraries and where they go on the Internet and to conduct eavesdropping on phone calls while investigating terrorism cases.
In the wake of the Sept. 11 attacks, U.S. law enforcement had been handed great powers that many contend violate Americans’ constitutional rights, which protect against warrantless searches and government snooping.
In advance of the hearings, Sen. Russ Feingold (DWisc.) has introduced legislation that limits the powers of the FBI and other federal agencies. Feingold’s 103-page Judicious Use of Surveillance Tools in
Counterterrorism Efforts Act of 2009 (S. 1686), called the “Justice Act,” restricts the government’s powers handed to it under the Patriot Act. It would hold private companies accountable for giving phone records to law enforcement without a warrant. It would also add safeguards to make sure searches for records will only be allowed for people believed to be connected to terrorism or spying.
So far, the bill has garnered support from powerful members of the Senate. Sen. Patrick Leahy (D-Ver.), who heads the Senate Judiciary Committee, had this to say about the measure: “The Justice Act reforms include more effective checks on government searches of Americans’ personal records, the ‘sneak and peek’ search provision of the Patriot Act, ‘John Doe’ roving wiretaps and other overbroad authorities.
The bill will also reform the FISA Amendments Act, passed last year, by repealing the retroactive immunity provision, preventing ‘bulk collection’ of the contents of Americans’ international communications, and prohibiting ‘reverse targeting’ of innocent Americans. And the bill enables better oversight of the use of National Security Letters (NSLs) after the Department of Justice inspector general issued reports detailing the misuse and abuse of the NSLs.”
The bill has nine cosponsors and is currently being deliberated in the Judiciary Committee.
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(Issue # 40, October 5, 2009)