Senate Panel Extends Controversial Patriot Act Provisions

Senate Panel Extends Controversial Patriot Act Provisions

The Senate Judiciary Committee narrowly passed a bill
Thursday to extend several controversial provisions of the USA Patriot Act,
the counterterrorism law hastily drafted in the aftermath of 9/11.

The parts of the Patriot Act set to expire December 31 that the panel voted
to extend until 2013 included roving wiretaps, which authorizes the FBI to target
individuals using multiple phone numbers; the “lone wolf” provision,
which targets individuals who are not connected to terrorist groups and has
thus far never been used; and, perhaps the most controversial, section 215 orders
, otherwise known as the “library records” provision, which allows
the FBI to access individuals’ personal records via National Security Letters
(NSLs).

In March 2007, Justice Department Inspector General Glenn Fine issued a 200-page
report documenting FBI abuses of National Security Letters. Fine testified
before Congress during the time that the FBI may have violated the law 3,000
times since 2003 by improperly using NSLs to collect information on US citizens.

The bill – the USA Patriot Act Sunset Extension Act – was co-sponsored by Judiciary
Committee Chairman Patrick Leahy and committee member Dianne Feinstein, who
also chairs the Senate Intelligence Committee, and passed was passed by a vote
of 11 to 8. It will now be sent to the full Senate for consideration and will
likely be the subject of fierce debate by conservative lawmakers, who believe
it does not go far enough in allowing law enforcement to combat terrorism, and
liberal Democrats, who say it tramples on privacy rights.

Civil liberties’ advocates and some Democratic lawmakers were sharply critical
of the legislation as it currently stands and criticized their colleagues for
supporting it.

“What was most upsetting was the apparent willingness of too many members
to defer completely to behind the scenes complaints from the FBI and the Justice
Department, even though the [Obama] administration has yet to take a public
position on any of the improvements that I and other senators have proposed,”
said Sen. Russ Feingold (D-Wisconsin). “I am left scratching my head trying
to understand how a committee controlled by a wide Democratic margin could support
the bill it approved today …”

Michael Macleod-Ball, acting director of the ACLU Washington legislative office,
said the bill “was a missed opportunity for the Senate Judiciary Committee
to right the wrongs of the Patriot Act and stand up for Americans’ Fourth Amendment
rights.”

“We are disappointed that further changes were not made to ensure Americans’
civil liberties would be adequately protected by this Patriot Act legislation,”
Macleod-Ball added. “The meager improvements made during this markup will
certainly be overshadowed by allowing so many horrible amendments to be added
to an already weak bill. Congress cannot continue to make this mistake with
the Patriot Act again and again. We urge the Senate to adopt amendments on the
floor that will bring this bill in line with the Constitution.”

The Advocacy group the Electronic Frontier Foundation said, “instead
of adding more protections to the bill, [the Judiciary Committee] voted to accept
seven Republican amendments [and removed] the few civil liberties protections
left in the bill after it was already watered down at last
Thursday’s
Committee meeting. Surprisingly and disappointingly, most of those amendments
were recommended to their Republican sponsors by the Obama Administration.”

Indeed. One Republican Senator, Jeff Sessions, of Alabama, the Washington Post
reported
“won approval for a package of amendments, intended to meet the concerns
of intelligence officials and the administration, that would limit the scope
of newly crafted privacy protections for library records, preserve the government’s
ability to maintain secrecy concerning NSLs in sensitive investigations, and
keep current law in place by not imposing unprecedented minimization requirements
on information.”

Senators who voted in favor of the bill are:

Patrick Leahy, D-Vermont

Herb Kohl, D-Wisconsin

Dianne Feinstein, D-California

Chuck Schumer, D-New York

Benjamin Cardin, D-Maryland

Sheldon Whitehouse, D-Rhode Island

Amy Klobuchar, D-Minnesota

Ted Kaufman, D-Delaware

Al Franken, D-Minnesota

Jon Kyl, R-Arizona

John Cornyn, R-Texas

Those who voted no:

Russ Feingold, D-Wisconsin

Dick Durbin, D-Illinois

Arlen Specter, D-Pennsylvania

Jeff Sessions, R-Alabama

Orin Hatch, R-Utah

Charles Grassley, R-Iowa

Lindsey Graham, R-South Carolina

Tom Coburn, R-Oklahoma