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Rays Of Sunlight in the House Judiciary Committee

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November 6, 2009

Good news on national security legislation. I know! I can hardly believe it myself!

The USA Patriot Amendments Act was marked up this week in an epic House Judiciary Committee meeting that spanned two days. The bill, though a bit watered down, still managed to maintain some of its civil liberties protections including:

  • A rewrite of the gag order that comes with national security letters (NSLs). That provision is consistent with a recent decision in a case challenging the gag order by yours truly, the ACLU.
  • A higher and stricter standard on issuing NSLs
  • Letting the never-used “lone wolf” provision expire
  • Much needed fixes to the John Doe roving wiretap provision

There are now a total of seven bills in Congress addressing the Patriot Act since three of the Act’s provisions are set to expire on December 31st. The USA Patriot Amendments Act is the best of the bunch that Congress is actively considering.

We’ll be asking you for support on this bill, especially as it faces some stiff competition from a competing bill introduced by House Intelligence Committee Chairman Silvestre Reyes. That bill will likely be heading for its own markup in the next few weeks (though, that mark up will likely be closed to the public). For more great info on Patriot check out the Get FISA Right kids, Julian Sanchez at Cato and, of course, Marcy Wheeler over at Firedoglake.

The House Judiciary Committee also managed to mark up the State Secrets Protection Act this week and, thankfully, left the bill largely intact. This bill was introduced early in the year after the Obama administration followed the Bush administration’s lead on claiming state secrets in our lawsuit against Jeppesen DataPlan for their role in “extraordinary rendition.” The government — unfortunately both past and present administrations now — has attempted to block several important lawsuits with an overbroad and improper assertion of “state secrets.”

The ACLU considers the State Secrets Protection Act a must-pass bill that will narrow the scope of the state secrets privilege and could open the courthouse doors to people who have suffered real and legitimate harm by the government. The bill will likely see more movement in 2010. Expect to hear from us then.

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