Patriot Act Provisions Up for Renewal

Between health care reform and missile defense, this news kind of got buried, but it’s important. Here is the story from Threat Level, the national security blog at Wired:

The Obama administration has told Congress it supports renewing three provisions of the Patriot Act due to expire at year’s end, measures making it easier for the government to spy within the United States.
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These are the three provisions due to expire:

*A secret court, known as the FISA court, may grant “roving wiretaps” without the government identifying the target. Generally, the authorities must assert that the target is an agent of a foreign power and/or a suspected terrorist. The government said Tuesday that 22 such warrants — which allow the monitoring of any communication device — have been granted annually.

*The FISA court may grant warrants for “business records,” from banking to library to medical records. Generally, the government must assert that the records are relevant to foreign intelligence gathering and/or a terrorism investigation. The government said Tuesday that 220 of these warrants had been granted between 2004 and 2007. It said 2004 was the first year those powers were used.

*A so-called “lone wolf” provision, enacted in 2004, allows FISA court warrants for the electronic monitoring of an individual even without showing that the person is an agent of a foreign power or a suspected terrorist. The government said Tuesday it has never invoked that provision, but said it wants to keep the authority to do so.

“The basic idea behind the authority was to cover situations in which information linking the target of an investigation to an international group was absent or insufficient, although the target’s engagement in ‘international terrorism’ was sufficiently established,” Weich wrote.

The American Civil Liberties opposes renewing all three provisions, especially the lone wolf measure.

On Thursday, eight U.S. senators introduced legislation to address specific threats to Americans’ civil liberties within these three provisions, and also in other areas of U.S. surveillance law:

U.S. Senators Russ Feingold (D-WI), Dick Durbin (D-IL), Jon Tester (D-MT), Tom Udall(D-NM), Jeff Bingaman (D-NM), Bernie Sanders (I-VT), Daniel Akaka (D-HI) and Ron Wyden (D-OR) have introduced legislation to fix problems with surveillance laws that threaten the rights and liberties of American citizens.  The Judicious Use of Surveillance Tools In Counterterrorism Efforts (JUSTICE) Act would reform the USA PATRIOT Act, the FISA Amendments Act and other surveillance authorities to protect Americans’ constitutional rights, while preserving the powers of our government to fight terrorism.

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 Senate Judiciary Committee will hold a hearing on Wednesday, September 23rd, on reauthorization of the USA PATRIOT Act.

A fact sheet with detailed information on the JUSTICE Act of 2009 is farther down the page. The hearing mentioned in the last sentence above, on September 23, will start at 10 a.m., and will be webcast live at the Senate Judiciary Committee’s website.

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