On Civil Liberties, Take 3: Speak Out Against the USA Patriot Act Sunset Extension Act of 2011!

Submitted by Elaine Magliaro, Guest Blogger

Last February, the U.S. Congress passed a one-year extension of three provisions of the Patriot Act that were due to expire. Although there were bills pending in the House and the Senate to amend those provisions—as well as other sections of the Patriot Act—Congress chose to reauthorize the act without making any changes.

This February, the three “sunset” provisions of the Patriot Act are due to expire again. On January 26th, Congressman Jim Sensenbrenner (R-WI) introduced legislation that calls for reauthorization of the three provisions. Sensenbrenner’s legislation would extend the “sunset” provisions through December 8, 2011.

Sensenbrenner said: “As the author of the USA PATRIOT Act and its reauthorization in 2005, I fully understand the intense legal scrutiny these provisions have undergone over the last several years and support making them permanent. These three provisions have helped thwart countless potential attacks since the bill was signed into law and are critical to helping ensure law officials can keep our nation safe from attack.”

From Reform the Patriot Act (ACLU):

The three expiring provisions of the Patriot Act give the government sweeping authority to spy on individuals inside the United States, and in some cases, without any suspicion of wrongdoing. All three should be allowed to expire if they are not amended to include privacy protections to protect personal information from government overreach.

Section 215 of the Patriot Act authorizes the government to obtain “any tangible thing” relevant to a terrorism investigation, even if there is no showing that the “thing” pertains to suspected terrorists or terrorist activities. This provision is contrary to traditional notions of search and seizure, which require the government to show reasonable suspicion or probable cause before undertaking an investigation that infringes upon a person’s privacy. Congress must ensure that things collected with this power have a meaningful nexus to suspected terrorist activity or it should be allowed to expire.

Section 206 of the Patriot Act, also known as “roving John Doe wiretap” provision, permits the government to obtain intelligence surveillance orders that identify neither the person nor the facility to be tapped. This provision is contrary to traditional notions of search and seizure, which require government to state with particularity what it seeks to search or seize. Section 206 should be amended to mirror similar and longstanding criminal laws that permit roving wiretaps, but require the naming of a specific target. Otherwise, it should expire.

Section 6001 of the Intelligence Reform and Terrorism Prevention Act of 2004, or the so-called “Lone Wolf” provision, permits secret intelligence surveillance of non-US persons who are not affiliated with a foreign organization. Such an authorization, granted only in secret courts is subject to abuse and threatens our longtime understandings of the limits of the government’s investigatory powers within the borders of the United States. This provision has never been used and should be allowed to expire outright.

The ACLU is also concerned that the proposed bill will not amend other sections of the Patriot Act that should be reformed—most notable of which is the section that relates to the issuance and use of NSLs (national security letters). Click here to get more information about national security letters.

Senator Patrick Leahy (D-VT), chairman of the Judiciary committee, has also introduced an extension that includes some restrictions of the “library” provisions in the Patriot Act. The ACLU doesn’t think those restrictions are sufficient.

I recommend you watch the following Washington Journal interview with Chipp Pitts on the subject of the Patriot Act and civil liberties. Pitts is a Board Member of the Bill of Rights Defense Committee and former chairman of Amnesty Intl USA
Washington Journal: Civil Liberties and the Patriot Act (C-SPAN, 1/29/2011)

What can we do about the USA Patriot Act Sunset Extension Act of 2011? Call our Representatives and Senators and tell them to let the “sunset” provisions fade into the sunset!


For Further Reading:

Reform the Patriot Act (ACLU)

Reclaiming Patriotism: A Call to Reconsider the Patriot Act (ACLU)

National Security Letters (ACLU)

Plaintiff who challenged FBI’s national security letters reveals concerns (Washington Post)

Monitoring America by Dana Priest and William M. Arkin (Washington Post)


Raw Story

20 thoughts on “On Civil Liberties, Take 3: Speak Out Against the USA Patriot Act Sunset Extension Act of 2011!”

  1. http://www.wired.com/dangerroom/2011/05/secret-patriot-act/

    There’s a Secret Patriot Act, Senator Says

    By Spencer Ackerman
    May 25, 2011

    You may think you understand how the Patriot Act allows the government to spy on its citizens. Sen. Ron Wyden (D-Oregon) says it’s worse than you’ve heard.

    Congress is set to reauthorize three controversial provisions of the surveillance law as early as Thursday. But Wyden says that what Congress will renew is a mere fig leaf for a far broader legal interpretation of the Patriot Act that the government keeps to itself — entirely in secret. Worse, there are hints that the government uses this secret interpretation to gather what one Patriot-watcher calls a “dragnet” for massive amounts of information on private citizens; the government portrays its data-collection efforts much differently.

    “We’re getting to a gap between what the public thinks the law says and what the American government secretly thinks the law says,” Wyden tells Danger Room in an interview in his Senate office. “When you’ve got that kind of a gap, you’re going to have a problem on your hands.”

    What exactly does Wyden mean by that? As a member of the intelligence committee, he laments that he can’t precisely explain without disclosing classified information. But one component of the Patriot Act in particular gives him immense pause: the so-called “business-records provision,” which empowers the FBI to get businesses, medical offices, banks and other organizations to turn over any “tangible things” it deems relevant to a security investigation.

    “It is fair to say that the business-records provision is a part of the Patriot Act that I am extremely interested in reforming,” Wyden says. “I know a fair amount about how it’s interpreted, and I am going to keep pushing, as I have, to get more information about how the Patriot Act is being interpreted declassified. I think the public has a right to public debate about it.”

    That’s why Wyden and his colleague Sen. Mark Udall offered an amendment on Tuesday to the Patriot Act reauthorization.

    The amendment, first reported by Marcy Wheeler, blasts the administration for “secretly reinterpret[ing] public laws and statutes.” It would compel the Attorney General to “publicly disclose the United States Government’s official interpretation of the USA Patriot Act.” And, intriguingly, it refers to “intelligence-collection authorities” embedded in the Patriot Act that the administration briefed the Senate about in February.

    Wyden says he “can’t answer” any specific questions about how the government thinks it can use the Patriot Act. That would risk revealing classified information — something Wyden considers an abuse of government secrecy. He believes the techniques themselves should stay secret, but the rationale for using their legal use under Patriot ought to be disclosed.

    “I draw a sharp line between the secret interpretation of the law, which I believe is a growing problem, and protecting operations and methods in the intelligence area, which have to be protected,” he says.

    Surveillance under the business-records provisions has recently spiked. The Justice Department’s official disclosure on its use of the Patriot Act, delivered to Congress in April, reported that the government asked the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court for approval to collect business records 96 times in 2010 — up from just 21 requests the year before. The court didn’t reject a single request. But it “modified” those requests 43 times, indicating to some Patriot-watchers that a broadening of the provision is underway.

    “The FISA Court is a pretty permissive body, so that suggests something novel or particularly aggressive, not just in volume, but in the nature of the request,” says Michelle Richardson, the ACLU’s resident Patriot Act lobbyist. “No one has tipped their hand on this in the slightest. But we’ve come to the conclusion that this is some kind of bulk collection. It wouldn’t be surprising to me if it’s some kind of internet or communication-records dragnet.” (Full disclosure: My fiancée works for the ACLU.)

    The FBI deferred comment on any secret interpretation of the Patriot Act to the Justice Department. The Justice Department said it wouldn’t have any comment beyond a bit of March congressional testimony from its top national security official, Todd Hinnen, who presented the type of material collected as far more individualized and specific: “driver’s license records, hotel records, car-rental records, apartment-leasing records, credit card records, and the like.”

    But that’s not what Udall sees. He warned in a Tuesday statement about the government’s “unfettered” access to bulk citizen data, like “a cellphone company’s phone records.” In a Senate floor speech on Tuesday, Udall urged Congress to restrict the Patriot Act’s business-records seizures to “terrorism investigations” — something the ostensible counterterrorism measure has never required in its nearly 10-year existence.

    Indeed, Hinnen allowed himself an out in his March testimony, saying that the business-record provision “also” enabled “important and highly sensitive intelligence-collection operations” to take place. Wheeler speculates those operations include “using geolocation data from cellphones to collect information on the whereabouts of Americans” — something our sister blog Threat Level has reported on extensively.

    It’s worth noting that Wyden is pushing a bill providing greater privacy protections for geolocation info.

    For now, Wyden’s considering his options ahead of the Patriot Act vote on Thursday. He wants to compel as much disclosure as he can on the secret interpretation, arguing that a shadow broadening of the Patriot Act sets a dangerous precedent.

    “I’m talking about instances where the government is relying on secret interpretations of what the law says without telling the public what those interpretations are,” Wyden says, “and the reliance on secret interpretations of the law is growing.”

    Site: Oregon.gov

  2. While these tea party members voted with Kucinich and Pelosi on this, they are uniformly against abortion and gay rights. This includes Ron Paul.

  3. My Congressman voted “nay” too.


    H R 514 2/3 YEA-AND-NAY 8-Feb-2011 7:04 PM
    QUESTION: On Motion to Suspend the Rules and Pass

    BILL TITLE: To extend expiring provisions of the USA PATRIOT Improvement and Reauthorization Act of 2005 and Intelligence Reform and Terrorism Prevention Act of 2004 relating to access to business records, individual terrorists as agents of foreign powers, and roving wiretaps until December 8, 2011


  4. Buddha,

    From Glenn Greenwald (2/9/2011)

    The Tea Party and civil liberties

    Yesterday, on the very same day that the Obama White House demanded that Egypt repeal its 30-year-old “emergency law,” it also demanded enactment of the House GOP’s proposal to extend America’s own emergency law — the Patriot Act — for three more years with no new oversight (the White House actually wants a longer extension than the House GOP is willing to support). Meanwhile, in the Senate, Pat Leahy has introduced a bill to impose some very mild and inadequate safeguards on these Patriot Act powers (some of which the DOJ has voluntarily accepted), but those efforts are being thwarted by the Democrats’ Senate Intelligence Committee Chair, Dianne Feinstein — easily one of the most implacable enemies of civil liberties in the Congress and one of the most loyal servants of the National Security State which enriches her husband; just as she did last year, Feinstein has demanded a full extension of the Patriot Act with no reforms of any kind.

    Put another way, the reform-free extension of the Bush-era Patriot Act is jointly assured by the most important Democratic power brokers (the Obama White House and Feinstein) and the Congressional GOP leadership. That’s the same bipartisan dynamic that has repeated itself over and over for the last decade as civil liberties in the U.S. have steadily eroded.

  5. Buddha,

    I read about the vote this morning–but I think the good news is just temporary.

    From US News (2/9/2011)
    Patriot Act Extension Fails, Splitting Tea Party Republicans

    The Patriot Act took a temporary hit Tuesday night when the House failed to muster a two-thirds majority to extend three provisions of the law under special fast-track rules. It’s a temporary setback for the bill, which is expected to easily pass in a few days under regular rules. And it’s a kick in the teeth to the newly-minted GOP leadership, which missed what should have been a lay-up.

  6. In researching Egypt to better understand what’s going on there currently, I came across something that got me thinking about the “Patriot Act” – Egypt has been operating under an “Emergency Law” since 1958. Many despotic regimes operate under various forms of these laws – some even bother to have their legislatures periodically renew them.

    No, the “Patriot Act” is not nearly as bad as most of the “Emergency Laws” used by despotic regimes around the world – but it sure smells, walks and quacks like one.

    From what I know about the “Patriot Act”, there’s nothing in there that is fundamentally necessary. Most of the powers have been available to law enforcement, but with some burden of evidence and judicial oversight – exactly how it should be. It’s unfortunate that our system of “checks and balances” might inconvenience our law enforcement officials, but it’s better then the nasty alternatives.

  7. A million gazillion thanks for this heads-up.

    I will call my reps and tell them to let the sun go down on this bad bad legislation.

  8. Uh oh. I don’t know how the smiley face got in there, but I obviously meant Proposition Eight.

  9. Good article, Elaine. I think the whole act should be repealed.

    I also think we should enact a “false labeling” law that requires federal legislation to be known by its number (Proposition 8) or the name of its sponsors (Graham-Leach-Bliley, Hatch, McCain-Feingold, etc.). The words “Patriot Act” are an oxymoron.

  10. I’ll send some emails- it was on my to-do list but I don’t think it will make any difference at all. Most of the provisions of the Act are most helpful to a government that wants to surveil and oppress its own citizens. I’m one of those crazy folks that think we hit the bottom of the ‘slippery slope’ at full-tilt some goodly time ago and just skidded and slid right off the edge of the world. This is the police state we worried about, the government just hasn’t felt it necessary to take off the gloves yet.

  11. Elaine, another great posting. I am afraid that the ACLU will not be successful in their attempts to reform the Patriot act. If the Dems in Congress didn’t have the stones to fight for an improved Patriot Act when they had the House and better numbers in the Senate, it won’t happen now. If I had to choose one item to strike from the Patriot act, it would be the NSL’s that are being misused.

  12. I would like to see all of the Patriot Act repealed but I’m not sure it matters because I think Law Enforcement does what they want anyway.

  13. There is nothing about the Patriot Act, including its title and the manner in which it was passed which is not even remotely patriotic. It is a document premised on irrational fears and antithetical to our constitutional system. In my opinion it should be repealed altogether.

  14. I will make the necessary calls and send the emails but my Senator and my Congresswoman do not support renewal and my communications will simply support them. The problem is with those citizens whose Congressmen and women do support renewal.

    We must find a way to convince these citizens that they need to take a stand and direct their representatives onto a different path.

  15. With whats going on in Egypt right now I would like to ask Mr. Sensenbrenner,why didn’t the Patriot Act play a role in letting us know that this was going to happen.

    The world is shifting under our feet and these people are so pathetic,both sides.

  16. I feel so say and loved….this is awesome…..everybody should just shout with glee…

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