Bill Introduced To Reform Patriot Act

September 17, 2009 12:00 am

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Legislation Would Also Narrow Overly Broad Surveillance Laws

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WASHINGTON – Senator Russell Feingold (D-WI) today introduced legislation that would narrow several provisions of the Patriot Act and other surveillance laws, including the FISA Amendments Act of 2008 (FAA). Three sections of the Patriot Act – the John Doe roving wiretap provision, Section 215 or the “library records” provision and the “lone wolf” provision – are up for renewal this year and will expire on December 31 if Congress does not take action. The American Civil Liberties Union has endorsed the new bill, the JUSTICE Act, and calls on Congress to move quickly to pass it.

“Over the past eight years, Congress and the executive branch have allowed for more and more surveillance while doing little to protect Americans’ privacy rights,” said Michael Macleod-Ball, Acting Director of the ACLU Washington Legislative Office. “The JUSTICE Act is a much needed remedy for the overbroad and out of control surveillance in our country. Given that three of the Patriot Act’s provisions expire at the end of the year, it’s vital that Congress pass the JUSTICE Act as quickly as it can so that proper action can be taken to protect Americans’ privacy rights.”

The JUSTICE Act would make vital changes to the Patriot Act and the FISA Amendments Act by inserting privacy and civil liberties safeguards into each law. The JUSTICE Act would amend the National Security Letter (NSL) provision of the Patriot Act by establishing a standard of individualized suspicion, mandating meaningful judicial review and requiring thorough reporting on the FBI’s use of NSLs to Congress. The NSL provision of the Patriot Act greatly expanded the FBI’s ability to secretly demand sensitive and private customer records from Internet Service Providers, financial institutions and credit bureaus without prior judicial approval and to impose gag orders on record demand recipients. The ACLU has successfully challenged the constitutionality of the amended NSL statute’s gag provisions in a lawsuit called Doe v. Holder. A lower court ruled in 2007 that NSL gag provisions were unconstitutional and in December 2008 the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit upheld that ruling in part, agreeing that the NSL statute’s gag provision violated the First Amendment.

The JUSTICE Act would restrict the sweeping wiretapping powers given to the government in the FISA Amendments Act passed last year, preventing agencies from conducting bulk collection of Americans’ communications. The Act would also repeal a highly controversial provision in the FAA that granted immunity to telephone companies that aided the Bush administration in its illegal and unconstitutional warrantless wiretapping program.

“This bill will give our surveillance laws the overhaul they so desperately need, restraining the government from unconstitutionally collecting vast amounts of data about innocent Americans,” said Michelle Richardson, ACLU Legislative Counsel. “Ensuring public reporting is a crucial part of keeping our government’s surveillance powers in check. Holding law enforcement accountable for how it uses these tools will not only help to preserve Americans’ privacy, it will ultimately keep us safer. Congress must make passing the JUSTICE Act a priority.”

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