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PATRIOT Act extension would add judicial oversight

January 28, 2011

Bill would shift next extension away from election year

Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman Patrick Leahy (D-VT) introduced legislation to the Senate Wednesday that would extend expiring provisions of the controversial PATRIOT Act.

“Congress now faces a deadline to take action on the expiring provisions of the USA PATRIOT Act,” Sen. Leahy said in a statement. “The USA PATRIOT Act Sunset Extension Act of 2011 will preserve law enforcement and intelligence techniques that are set to expire on February 28, 2011, and extend them to December 2013.”

The legislation, titled “The USA PATRIOT Act Sunset Extension Act of 2011,” would extend the roving wiretap provisions, the “lone wolf” measure and the “library records” provision. The provisions allow authorities to conduct surveillance without identifying the person or location to be wiretapped, permits surveillance of “non-US” persons who are not affiliated with a terrorist group, and lets the government gain access to “any tangible thing” during investigations, respectively.

The bill also increases judicial oversight of government surveillance powers, such as requiring authorities to list the facts that justify obtaining a court order and raising the standards for gaining permission to conduct wiretaps.

“While this bill makes important changes to the Patriot Act to increase oversight of its powers, it unfortunately allows many dangerous provisions to continue,” Michelle Richardson, American Civil Liberties Union legislative counsel, said.

“Since its passage nearly a decade ago, the Patriot Act has been used improperly again and again by law enforcement to invade Americans’ privacy and violate their constitutional rights,” Richardson added. “Rather than allow these provisions to be rubberstamped in February, Congress should seize this opportunity to make reforming the Patriot Act a priority.”

Meanwhile, House Judiciary Committee Chairman Lamar Smith (R-TX) announced Wednesday that he was supporting a bill introduced by Rep. Mike Rogers (R-MI) in early January. That bill would only extend the expiring provisions until 2012 but, unlike Sen. Leahy’s bill, it does not include additional oversight provisions.

“Earlier this month, a bill was introduced in the House of Representatives to extend the expiring provisions only until February 2012, an expiration date chosen deliberately to try to force a debate over national security in an election year,” Sen. Leahy said.

“The Senate should pass the USA PATRIOT Act Sunset Extension Act of 2011 to codify the steps forward that the Attorney General has taken by implementing parts of the bill administratively,” Sen. Leahy continued. “The reforms adopted by this Attorney General could be undone by a future Attorney General with the stroke of a pen.”

Britain’s government announced Wednesday that it was overturning some of their unpopular anti-terrorism laws. The measures, put in place after the attacks of Sept. 11, 2001, were widely thought to be some of the toughest in the West.

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