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Patriot Reauthorization Begins. Badly.

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October 2, 2009

Yesterday the Senate Judiciary Committee started its markup of a bill that will both extend the three expiring provisions of the Patriot Act and add a few minor fixes to other overly broad surveillance provisions of the act. The bill the committee is working on is not, sadly, the bill the ACLU was hoping for.

We had thrown our weight/hope behind a bill introduced by committee members Sens. Feingold (D-Wis.) and Durbin (D-Ill.) called the JUSTICE Act. The JUSTICE Act would go a long way in fixing the surveillance state our government has created in the time since 9/11. The bill addresses the civil liberties failings not only in the Patriot Act but also amends the disastrous FISA Amendments Act (yeah, we’re suing) and tweaks other surveillance laws to bring them all in line with the Constitution. The committee decided to go ahead with its chairman’s bill, Sen. Leahy’s USA PATRIOT Act Sunset Extension Act, which has some good fixes in it but is not nearly close to the sweeping reform needed for the Patriot Act.

Well, unfortunately, the first thing the committee agreed to substitute Sen. Leahy’s base bill with a bill that he worked on with Sen. Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.). In a very real way, the bill went from having minor fixes to having even smaller modifications. Sigh.

(Also, yesterday, the WLO’s National Security Policy Counsel, Mike German, appeared on Glenn Greenwald’s radio show to talk Patriot. Mike followed up with Glenn shortly after the markup began to share the disheartening news of the Feinstein-Leahy substitute bill.)

As the markup continued, amendments were offered to the bill by Sens. Feingold, Durbin, Kyl and others. The committee, thankfully, accepted Sen. Feingold’s amendment that shortens the time period on the infamous “sneak and peek” provision, which allows law enforcement agencies to delay giving notice when they conduct a search. Durbin’s amendment to narrow the broad Section 215 powers, which allows the government to gain access to “any tangible thing,” failed. You win some, you lose some.

The committee didn’t finish its work on the bill yesterday and will continue its markup next Thursday the 8. The good news? Now you’ve got an extra week to contact your senators’ offices urging them to vote to add any JUSTICE Act amendments to the bill next markup. These are the committee members who didn’t even support Senator Durbin’s amendment to rein in the so-called “library provision”/ Section 215 power: Senators Leahy (D-Vt.), Kohl (D-Wis.), Feinstein (D-Calif.), Schumer (D-N.Y.), Kaufman (D-Del., Klobuchar (D-Minn.), Franken (D-Minn.) and Whitehouse (D-R.I.). Maybe you could give them a call and let them know that next week they need to make sure they’re on the side of civil liberties – especially when it comes to National Security Letters, which will undoubtedly come up.

On the flipside, Sens. Feingold, Cardin (D-Md.) and Specter (D-Pa.) might like to hear from you that you’re grateful they voted the right way during this markup and should keep it up next week. Listen: We all need a little positive reinforcement now and again.

Get dialing folks!

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