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Ensuring JUSTICE In Patriot Act Reauthorization

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October 7, 2009

(Originally posted on Daily Kos.)

On Thursday the Senate Judiciary Committee is going to wrap up its markup and vote on the USA PATRIOT Act Sunset Extension Act. The committee started its discussion last week, debating and voting on amendments that either improved or worsened an already watered-down bill.

It’s likely that most of you are familiar with the Patriot Act but just in case – the voluminous and complex bill was rushed through Congress just 45 days after 9/11 with little debate and gave sweeping and invasive powers to the government, including the ability to access your medical records, tax records and to search your home only letting you know after the fact. Three provisions of the Patriot Act are due for reauthorization by the end of the year and Congress is just now getting to it so, sense of irony intact, the legislation will certainly be rushed and the debate will likely be minimal.

The bill being marked up by the committee is a so-called ‘compromise’ bill offered by Chairman Patrick Leahy (D-VT) and Senator Dianne Feinstein (D-CA) and is not the bill the ACLU endorsed. We endorsed a bill introduced by Senators Russell Feingold (D-WI) and Richard Durbin (D-IL) called the JUSTICE Act, which would have inserted rigorous civil liberties safeguards into the Patriot Act as well as several other overly broad surveillance laws including, the FISA Amendments Act.

Senators Feingold and Durbin are seeking to have JUSTICE Act provisions added as amendments to the committee’s base bill and succeeded last week in adding language that would shorten the time period on the infamous “sneak and peek” provision, which allows law enforcement agencies to delay giving notice when they conduct a search (you can thank Senator Feingold for introducing the amendment by tweeting a message here and Senator Arlen Specter (D-PA)for voting for it by tweeting a message here).

The rest of the committee needs to know that you’re as committed to reforming the Patriot Act as Senators Feingold and Durbin. There’s still time before Thursday for you to contact your Senators’ offices urging them to vote to add any JUSTICE Act amendments to the bill next markup. Among the most important things they should do is make sure that national security letters can no longer be issued to collect the private communication, financial and credit records of people who have no ties to terrorism.

These are the Democratic committee members who, in concert with all of their Republican colleagues, voted against adding modest privacy protections that would have reined in the infamous “library records provision” and need to hear from you: Senators Leahy (D-VT), Kohl (D-WI), Feinstein (D-CA), Schumer (D-NY), Kaufman (D-DE, Klobuchar (D-MN), Franken (D-MN) and Whitehouse (D-RI). These Senators need a reminder that Americans are actually pretty interested in keeping our Fourth Amendment rights.

And make sure to call Senators Specter and Cardin to thank them for supporting Feingold’s important amendment last Thursday and urge them to keep supporting the Constitution. Call these Senators on the Judiciary Committee and tell them to protect your privacy this Thursday and vote for JUSTICE Act amendments that will truly reform the Patriot Act.

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