In the aftermath of 9/11, legislators cut legal corners to protect the nation. Congress should amend that now by revising certain expiring provisions of the law.
Along with the Guantanamo Bay detention facility and the Bush administration’s illegal eavesdropping on U.S. citizens, the USA Patriot Act came to symbolize the excesses of the post-9/11 war on terrorism. Now, as it weighs the extension of three expiring provisions, the Democratic-controlled Congress has an opportunity to restore key privacy protections that were forgotten in the aftermath of the attacks.
The Patriot Act’s greatest threat to personal privacy lies not in any of the provisions set to expire but in the law’s expansion of the use of national security letters, subpoenas that allow the FBI to obtain records without a warrant. In 2008, the FBI issued 24,744 letters involving the records of 7,225 people. Not surprisingly, there have been abuses. In 2007, after an investigation of four FBI offices, the Justice Department’s inspector general found irregularities in 22% of documents related to the issuance of national security letters. Last year, he found that the FBI had made “significant progress” in correcting violations.
Read the full editorial in the Los Angeles Times.