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)
National Security Letters (ACLU)
Monitoring America by Dana Priest and William M. Arkin (Washington Post)