Troubling Start For Patriot Act Reauthorization

October 1, 2009 12:00 am

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Senate Committee Marks Up Weak Patriot Act Bill Lacking In Civil Liberties Protections

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WASHINGTON – The Senate Judiciary Committee began its debate today on a version of a bill to extend the USA Patriot Act that falls far short of including necessary civil liberties protections. The committee substituted the original language of the bill with a watered-down version offered by Senators Dianne Feinstein (D-CA) and Patrick Leahy (D-VT). The American Civil Liberties Union has endorsed the JUSTICE Act, an alternative bill that would reform not only the Patriot Act but other overly broad surveillance laws.

During the committee’s debate today, amendments were offered to the base bill that echoed provisions in the JUSTICE Act, which was sponsored by Senators Russell Feingold (D-WI) and Richard Durbin (D-IL). The committee accepted Senator 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. Another amendment offered by Senator Durbin to narrow the broad Section 215 powers, which allows the government to gain access to “any tangible thing,” failed.

The ACLU urges the committee to adopt all amendments offered that would realign the Patriot Act with the Constitution when it returns to the bill next week.

The following can be attributed to Michael Macleod-Ball, Acting Director of the ACLU Washington Legislative Office:

“The bill, as it stands now, falls far short of including civil liberties protections shown to be necessary by the results of oversight and audits of the Patriot Act that have been made public to date. While improvements to the rule gagging recipients of national security letters are a step in the right direction, the Patriot Act Sunset Extension Act is miles away from meeting constitutional muster. Fortunately, the committee will continue discussing the bill next week. We urge the committee, while it still can, to add any amendments to the bill that would offer Americans greater privacy and civil liberties protections before this bill is sent to the floor.”

To learn more about ACLU efforts to reform the Patriot Act, go to:

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