February 01, 2011

Bill Would Extend USA PATRIOT Act Provisions

The House cleared legislation Feb. 17 to extend the “library,” “lone wolf” and “roving wiretap” anti-terrorism provisions of the USA PATRIOT Act through May 27 after agreement could not be reached on proposals to either make the provisions permanent or extend them through 2013.

The provisions had been scheduled to expire Feb. 28 under a one-year extension enacted in February 2010. H.R. 514, which provides for a 90-day extension, passed the House Feb. 17 by a 297-143 vote two days after the Senate approved the bill by an 86-12 vote.

The “library” provision allows the government to seek surveillance orders from the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court for tangible things, including medical and library records that it states are related to a terrorism investigation. Under the “lone wolf” provision, the government may apply to the court to conduct surveillance on suspected terrorists who are not connected to larger terrorist organizations. The “roving wiretap” provision authorizes court-approved roving wiretaps of terrorism suspects using multiple communications devices.

Earlier this month, the Senate Judiciary Committee began marking up S. 193, a bill introduced by committee Chairman Patrick J. Leahy (D-Vt.), to extend the expiring provisions through 2013. The bill is similar to legislation approved by the committee during the last Congress, and markup is scheduled to continue March 3.

In introducing the bill, Leahy emphasized that the legislation would codify steps that Attorney General Eric H. Holder Jr. took in December to implement many of the privacy and civil liberties provisions of the bill administratively.

In correspondence to Leahy, Holder wrote that the department had determined that many of the privacy and civil liberties of the legislation could be implemented without legislation.

 “We believe these measures will enhance standards, oversight and accountability, especially with respect to how information about U.S. persons is retained and disseminated, without sacrificing the operational effectiveness and flexibility needed to protect our citizens from terrorism and facilitate the collection of vital foreign intelligence and counterintelligence information,” Holder said. 

In the House, Rep. F. James Sensenbrenner (R-Wis.) is planning to hold hearings on the issue before the House Judiciary Subcommittee on Crime, Terrorism and Homeland Security, which he chairs. Sensenbrenner supports making the provisions permanent.

The ABA has urged Congress to thoroughly review executive branch powers under the USA PATRIOT Act and to conduct regular oversight of the government’s use of the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act.

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