Senate Committee Passes PATRIOT Act Reauthorization Bill

Washington, D.C., October 9, 2009 – The Senate Judiciary Committee, yesterday approved the USA PATRIOT Act Extension Act of 2009 (S.1692) by a vote of 11-8.  The legislation would extend three controversial provisions within the Patriot Act until 2013.  The provisions allow law enforcement agencies to conduct roving wiretaps without having to identify suspects by name, search an individual’s personal and business records with reduced judicial oversight, and investigate suspects without having to first prove any link between them and a terrorist organization. 

Civil liberty advocates have criticized the legislation, stating that the bill falls short of restoring necessary privacy protections.  The committee voted to accept several amendments intended to meet the concerns of the intelligence community and the administration.  The amendments limited the scope of civil liberties protections, which were left in the bill after last week’s committee hearing.  

However, two amendments offered by Senator Feingold were included in the final bill.  The amendments would tighten legal standard for the FBI’s issuing of subpoenas know as national security letters and would require the government to inform suspects of “sneak and peek” searches within seven days rather than the current thirty days.  “Sneak and peek” searches allow the government to search an individual’s private residence without notifying the resident.

Senator Feingold is the principle author of an alternative bill known as the Justice Act, which is aimed at placing additional checks and oversight on certain surveillance measures within the PATRIOT Act.  The Justice Act  preserves law enforcement’s ability to keep Americans safe by conducting terrorism related surveillance activities while ensuring that the privacy and civil liberties of all Americans will be protected. 

Senator Feingold has vowed to continue to work with his colleagues to try and make improvements to the USA PATRIOT Act Extension Act of 2009. 

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