October 08, 2009

JUDICIARY COMMITTEE APPROVES USA PATRIOT ACT LEGISLATION

WASHINGTON, DC - At a meeting Thursday, the Senate Judiciary Committee approved legislation to reauthorize expiring provisions in the USA PATRIOT Act and improve oversight of several tools used to gather intelligence.  The Committee's bipartisan 11-8 vote advances the legislation to the full Senate for consideration.
 
The USA PATRIOT Act Sunset Extension Act was introduced by Committee Chairman Patrick Leahy (D-VT) with Senators Benjamin L. Cardin (D-MD) and Ted Kaufman (D-DE) on September 22 .  The bill is co-sponsored by Senator Dianne Feinstein (D-CA), the chair of the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence, and Committee Members Sheldon Whitehouse (D-RI) and Amy Klobuchar (D-MN).  Senators Herb Kohl (D-WI), Chuck Schumer (D-NY), Al Franken (D-MN), Jon Kyl (R-AZ), and John Cornyn (R-TX) also voted to approve the legislation.
 
"Our priority is to protect the American people - both safety and civil liberties," said Cardin, who chairs the Terrorism and Homeland Security Subcommittee.  "We must make sure that our law enforcement and intelligence professionals have the tools they need to prevent and disrupt terrorist attacks, while maintaining an appropriate balance between national security and protecting civil liberties. With these parallel goals in mind, I believe the Judiciary Committee took the right action today to extend the provisions that expire at the end of the year.  This legislation provides stronger Congressional and judicial oversight of the Patriot Act, as well as new limits on the use of National Security Letters."
 
 "I remain mindful of our responsibility to ensure both security and liberty as we proceed," said Leahy.  "Our bill will provide the tools that are needed to protect us, while increasing the protections of our vital constitutional rights, as well.  We have taken the administration up on its offer to work with us to 'provide additional protection for the privacy of law abiding Americans' and have done so without undermining the operational effectiveness of the counterterrorism tools provided in the Patriot Act.  I appreciate the work of Senator Cardin and Senator Kaufman, as well as Senator Feinstein, Senator Whitehouse and Senator Klobuchar, in advancing this bill."

Kaufman said, "We must provide our law enforcement and intelligence officials the tools they need to keep America safe, while at the same time safeguarding Americans' rights. As this process moves to the floor, I look forward to continuing to work with Chairman Leahy, my colleagues, and the administration to make sure that we accomplish both of these critical objectives."  

The legislation reauthorizes three provisions of the Patriot Act that are set to expire at the end of the year: roving wiretaps, the "lone wolf" measure, and Section 215 orders for tangible things, commonly referred to as the "library records" provision.  The Patriot Act was first enacted in October 2001, and was reauthorized in 2006.  The legislation approved Thursday also includes several oversight provisions, including sunsets and audits of National Security Letters (NSLs), ensures greater judicial review of nondisclosure orders and reporting requirements to allow Congress to monitor the use of authorities.  The legislation also includes new court approved minimization procedures for Section 215 orders for business records or tangible things and for NSLs to ensure stronger privacy protections. 

The Committee adopted a substitute amendment negotiated by Leahy and Feinstein at a business meeting on October 1.
Amendments adopted at the meeting Thursday made the following changes to the legislation:
  • Clarify that minimization procedures for pen register/trap and trace orders apply to information "known to concern" U.S. persons.
  • Indicate that, provided that the conditions set forth for a non-disclosure order are met, judges shall issue the order, as was intended in setting out those conditions.
  • Require the government to notify those NSL recipients who challenge non-disclosure orders when such an order is no longer required.
  • Clarify the types of library records entitled to more deferential review under Section 215 orders.
  • Make technical fixes for the minimization procedures for pen register/trap and trace orders.
  • Require the FBI (or other agency issuing a National Security Letter)  to include specific facts in its written statement supporting the issuance of the National Security Letter showing that the information requested is relevant to an authorized investigation.
  • Elevate the weight a court gives to the government's assertion of potential harm from disclosure of NSLs from "appropriate weight" to "substantial weight."
  • Require that the Attorney General, within 180 days of enactment, establish minimization and destruction procedures governing acquisition, retention, and dissemination by the FBI of any records received by the FBI in response to a National Security Letter.
Text of all amendments considered during the Committee's meeting are available online .  The USA PATRIOT Act Sunset Extension Act will now be reported to the full Senate for consideration.