National ACLU Says: Bill Does Not Go Far Enough To Protect Americans’ Privacy
The Senate Judiciary Committee passed the USA PATRIOT Act Extension Act of 2009 last week, a bill which falls far short of restoring the necessary civil liberties protections lacking in the original Patriot Act. The bill, passed by the committee after two sessions of debate, makes only minor changes to the disastrous Patriot Act and was further watered down by amendments adopted during markup. The American Civil Liberties Union had endorsed the JUSTICE Act, an alternative bill that would heavily reform not only the Patriot Act but other overly broad surveillance laws.
Amendments that were offered but failed by voice vote included an amendment by Senator Richard Durbin (D-IL) to curb the abuse of the overly broad National Security Letter (NSL) statute and another offered by Senator Russell Feingold (D-WI) to allow the “lone wolf” provision to expire (the never-used provision that targets individuals who are not connected to terrorist groups). An amendment also failed that would make it more difficult for recipients to challenge the gag order that comes with receiving an NSL.
However, there were two amendments included in the final bill – both offered by Senator Feingold – that are victories for privacy: The Department of Justice would be ordered to discard any illegally obtained information received in response to an NSL and the government must notify suspects of “sneak and peek” searches within seven days instead of the thirty days currently outlined in the statute. “Sneak and peek” searches allow the government to search a home without notifying the resident immediately.
“We are disappointed that further changes were not made to ensure Americans’ civil liberties would be adequately protected by this Patriot Act legislation," said Michael Macleod-Ball, Acting Director of the ACLU Washington Legislative Office. This truly was a missed opportunity for the Senate Judiciary Committee to right the wrongs of the Patriot Act and stand up for Americans’ Fourth Amendment rights. The meager improvements made during this markup will certainly be overshadowed by allowing so many horrible amendments to be added to an already weak bill. Congress cannot continue to make this mistake with the Patriot Act again and again. We urge the Senate to adopt amendments on the floor that will bring this bill in line with the Constitution.”
To learn more about the ACLU’s work on the Patriot Act, go to: www.reformthepatriotact.org.