Debate Over Patriot Act Reignites

September 30, 2009, Washington, D.C. – With three sections of the Patriot Act set to expire on December 31st of this year, the Senate Judiciary Committee held a hearing last Wednesday to debate the extension of these provisions. While the Administration has voiced its support for their renewal, a group of Senators led by Russ Feingold (D-WI) have introduced legislation known as the JUSTICE Act (S.1686), which is aimed at placing additional checks on the authority afforded to the FBI and other law enforcement and intelligence agencies by these provisions within the Patriot Act.

Originally signed into law in the October of 2001, the Patriot Act increases the ability of law enforcement agencies to search communication, financial, medical, and other records in relation to terrorism investigations. Furthermore, the Act eases restrictions placed on foreign intelligence gathering and enhances the discretion of law enforcement agencies in detaining and deporting immigrants suspected of terrorist activities. The Act was reauthorized in 2005 with certain provisions on the ability of law enforcement to obtain “roving wiretaps” and gain access to personal records and materials set to expire on December 31, 2009.

Supporters of the JUSTICE Act are concerned with what they see as the excessive rights allotted to federal agencies under these provisions. “Every single member of Congress wants to give our law enforcement and intelligence officials the tools they need to keep America safe,” Senator Feingold explained in a statement made when filing the bill. “But with the Patriot Act up for reauthorization, we should take this opportunity to fix the flaws in our surveillance laws once and for all.”

Witnesses at the hearing included David Kris, Assistant Attorney General of the National Security Division of the Department of Justice; Glenn Fine, Inspector General of the Department of Justice; Suzanne Spaulding of the Bingham Consulting Group; Kenneth Wainstein, Partner at O’Melveny & Myers LLP; and Lisa Graves, Executive Director for the Center of Media and Democracy.

Click here to read the text of the JUSTICE Act

Click here to watch a webcast of the hearing 

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