There’s a new stealth PATRIOT-expansion bill that the Senate Intelligence Committee will consider in closed session later this week. In addition to renewing many of the USA PATRIOT Act’s most troubling provisions, the new bill would give the FBI the power to issue so-called “administrative subpoenas.” These new national security subpoenas would allow the FBI to secretly demand the private records of people who aren’t even suspected of a crime, much less of spying or terrorism — all without a judge’s prior approval. The FBI could get anything from Internet logs and emails from your Internet service provider, to health records from your doctor, to financial information from your bank.
The Justice Department has long sought this kind of unprecedented subpoena power for the FBI, but Congress has always said no — even in the aftermath of the 9/11 terrorist attacks. Yet this Thursday the Senate Intelligence Committee will meet behind closed doors to mark up the new PATRIOT legislation, and it’s entirely possible that the Justice Department will finally get its wish. Now is the time to act.
If your senator is on the Senate Intelligence Committee, write him or her today to oppose any renewal or expansion of PATRIOT surveillance powers, and to demand that the closed-door session be opened to the public.
EFF has already done just that, writing to the committee as part of a coalition of civil liberties organizations — now it’s your turn to speak up. Check out the links below to read our letter, write your own at the EFF Action Center, or just learn more about the bill:
UPDATE 27/5 :
The Senate Intelligence Committee failed yesterday to reach agreement on the stealth PATRIOT expansion bill that would give the FBI expanded power to dig through the private records of people who aren’t accused of any wrongdoing. The New York Times has the scoop, including a choice quote from Senator Ron Wyden (D-OR):
“The committee met in private for two and a half hours amid continuing complaints from civil liberties advocates and some Democrats that the proposal would give federal investigators too much power to conduct ‘fishing expeditions’ in pursuing terrorism leads. Senate Republican leaders and the Bush administration, who are backing the proposal, say it provides the F.B.I. with essential tools in fighting terrorism.
‘You can fight terrorism ferociously without throwing people’s rights in the trash can,’ Senator Ron Wyden, Democrat of Oregon and a member of the committee, said after emerging from the meeting.”
This is good but not great news: we achieved push-back, but it will take more than that to stop the bill from moving out of committee. Committee members will likely reconvene for another mark-up session next week…
- Read the coalition letter opposing administrative subpoenas [PDF]
- Make your voice heard with the EFF Action Center
- Draft legislation for new PATRIOT powers [PDF]
- Committee summary of the bill [PDF]
- Plan to Let FBI Track Mail in Terrorism Inquiries [May 21, NYT; reg. req.]
- Democrats Fault Plan for FBI [May 20, NYT; reg. req.]
- Plan Would Broaden FBI’s Terror Role [May 19, NYT; reg. req.]
- Expanded Patriot Act To Be Proposed [May 19, NYT; reg. req.]
- Senate Committee to Mull Expanded Police Powers [May 18, Reuters]