U.S. Senators Russ Feingold (D-WI) and Dick Durbin (D-IL) are advocating reforms to the USA PATRIOT Act and related surveillance laws as part of the reauthorization of expiring provisions that the Senate will consider later this year. Feingold and Durbin have informed the Attorney General and the Chairmen of the Senate Judiciary and Intelligence Committees that they intend to once again seek reasonable reforms that will protect the constitutional rights of American citizens, while preserving the powers our government needs to fight terrorism. Feingold and Durbin want modifications to the USA PATRIOT Act similar to those outlined in the Security and Freedom Enhancement (SAFE) Act of 2005 and the National Security Letter (NSL) Reform Act of 2007, both of which had bipartisan support. While in the Senate, President Obama cosponsored both bills. The senators also urged that reforms to other surveillance laws, like the FISA Amendments Act, be considered.
“These PATRIOT Act sunsets give Congress the opportunity to finally get it right,” said Feingold, the lone Senator to vote against the original USA PATRIOT Act in 2001. “It has been eight years since the PATRIOT Act became law, and it is time to enact reasonable reforms to protect the rights and privacy of Americans while ensuring the government has the tools it needs to go after terrorist threats. Congress needs to fix our surveillance laws once and for all, from addressing the abuse of the National Security Letter authority that was identified by the Justice Department Inspector General to making sure that ‘sneak and peek’ search warrants can’t unjustly be used to allow secret searches of Americans’ homes.”
“As Congress begins discussion about the PATRIOT Act’s reauthorization, we should focus on protecting the constitutional rights of American citizens while preserving the powers our government needs to fight terrorism,” Durbin said. “The great challenge of our age is combating terrorism while remaining true to our Constitution. Incorporating aspects of the SAFE Act in this year’s reauthorization will help us to meet that challenge.”
In 2007 and 2008, the Department of Justice Inspector General issued reports reviewing the FBI’s use of National Security Letters (NSLs) that identified serious misuse and abuse. The USA PATRIOT Act granted the FBI unprecedented powers to obtain sensitive information about Americans without judicial review through the use of NSLs, and Congress failed to enact sufficient safeguards during the 2005 reauthorization process. The changes Feingold and Durbin are proposing would reform the way NSLs are issued and overseen, protect the private business records of innocent Americans, and ensure the courts are able to serve as a check on the executive branch’s surveillance authorities.
Press release from Senator Russ Feingold, Aug. 6, 2009