Thursday, February 02, 2006

Another Five Weeks

From the Oroville Mercury-Register:

The House of Representatives agreed Wednesday to extend the USA Patriot Act for five weeks while lawmakers and the White House negotiate the terms of renewal and determine how to protect people from government intrusion.

The GOP-controlled House used a voice vote to keep the law in effect until March 10 so negotiators have more time to come up with a deal. The Senate was expected to also approve the extension before the law expires Friday.

See the Full Article Here:

Wednesday, February 01, 2006

Another Extension Probable

From National Journal:

Congress is expected to extend expiring provisions of the USA PATRIOT Act for another five weeks as negotiators seek a solution to the stalemate that prevented approval late last year, National Journal's Technology Daily reported. Discussions between the Senate and House Tuesday produced an agreement to extend the provisions until March 10, rather than March 14 as initially proposed by House Judiciary Chairman Sensenbrenner. The House was scheduled to take up the bill this afternoon, with the Senate now expected to follow suit. Without action, the provisions would expire Friday. No agreement has been reached yet over differences over several key portions of the law such as the terms on which anti-terrorism investigators can monitor electronic communications, access to business and library patron records, gag orders on recipients of secret subpoenas for information, and notification of suspects that they are under investigation.

Monday, January 30, 2006

Reauthorization Prospects Unclear; House Vote Possible Wednesday

From National Journal:
A short-term extension of provisions of the anti-terrorism legislation known as the USA PATRIOT ACT is set to expire Friday [February 3, 2006], and prospects for another extension or a compromise between House and Senate versions are unclear.

House and Senate lawmakers negotiating a renewal of the law have been unable to reach an agreement on privacy provisions.

The two sides have been at an impasse since Congress adjourned for the holidays in December.
At that time, they agreed to a five-week extension of the current law.

The Senate is expected to pass another short-term extension, barring a last-minute breakthrough.

From the Whip Notice of the U.S. House of Representatives:

On Wednesday, the House will meet at 10:00 a.m. for legislative business.

H.R. __ - to amend the USA PATRIOT ACT to extend the sunset of certain provisions of such Act (Subject to a Rule) (Sponsored by Rep. Sensenbrenner / Judiciary Committee)

Rumblings of Freedom?

by Chip Pitts, Board President, Bill of Rights Defense Committee (

Could those distant rumblings really represent a growing chorus of the people and their representatives reclaiming their freedoms?

Maybe. There’s at least some unexpected drama surrounding the Patriot Act’s renewal. Recall that in December, a bipartisan group of senators rejected a Conference Report that favored the less-liberty sensitive House approach for reauthorizing 16 “sunsetting” Patriot Act provisions. Preferring the somewhat more liberty-sensitive, unanimous Senate version, they joined Senator Russ Feingold (D-WI) in a filibuster that temporarily delayed the bill becoming law until February 3rd. The true patriots joining Feingold included Senators Larry Craig (R–ID), Dick Durbin (D–IL), John Sununu (R–NH), Barak Obama (D–IL), Lisa Murkowski (R- AK), John Kerry (D-MA), Chuck Hagel (R-NV), and Ken Salazar (D-CO).

While the 16 ‘most controversial’ provisions slated to sunset have received attention, many other dubious provisions haven’t been debated at all. However, President Bush and his supporters want to keep all these provisions and remove all but a couple of the sunsets – even though the presence of sunsets actually discouraged abuse and prompted the little Congressional oversight that occurred.

These partisans would allow only minor improvements offering illusory protections, such as a bit more reporting on the number of times provisions have been used, and Justice Department Inspector General audits. They’d require that section 215’s secret searches and seizures be “relevant” to an “investigation,” but this would still allow fishing expeditions on a standard failing to meet the traditionally required probable cause that the target is factually linked to terrorism or espionage. The FBI director (or a deputy) would approve searches for the most sensitive library, medical, educational, gun, and tax records, but these are merely higher ups in the same agency demanding the records. And some limited rights to challenge search orders and gag orders would be granted – but would usually fail under strong presumptions favoring the government.

Per U.S. News and World Report, the feds would still have a “virtually free hand to secretly rummage through the records and homes of ordinary Americans, even those with no ties to suspected terrorists or spies.” National security letters of the sort already issued to tens of thousands of American businesses, schools, libraries, and medical offices would continue without prior court authorization, each potentially reaching the records of many more people. This “anti-terrorist” law would still be used overwhelmingly in non-terrorist criminal cases, all under the guise of being “nothing new” – and simultaneously indispensable.

Far from being a partisan issue, this deceptive executive power-grab concerns – or should concern – all Americans. Perhaps that’s why so many diverse sources have insisted that individualized, fact-based suspicion and meaningful judicial review be reinserted into the law.

Such calls have come from leading legislators from both parties, top business organizations ranging from the U.S. Chamber of Commerce to the National Association of Manufacturers, and not only progressive but also conservative organizations like Bob Barr’s Patriots to Restore Checks and Balances. “Just trust us” doesn’t fly after revelations that the President used the National Security Agency to illegally spy on Americans without warrants and used the Pentagon as well as the FBI to spy on nonviolent activists ranging from the ACLU and Greenpeace to the Quakers. It doesn't work when the administration has repeatedly ignored laws including even the Patriot Act itself to illegally roundup thousands of Muslims and Arabs after 9/11, to secretly detain people around the world, to torture and treat them cruelly, and even to engage in extrajudicial killings of the sort recently seen in Pakistan.

Disturbingly reminiscent of Nixon’s “enemies list” and the discredited COINTELPRO activity, these counterproductive and un-American activities harm security in many ways. Confusing innocent Americans or Muslims with al Qaeda wastes limited resources. As FBI officials have complained, it adds to the quantity of useless data to be sifted through. And spying on activists deters the scrutiny and criticism needed to correct government overreaching and mistakes. Less noticed than the warrantless surveillance has been the administration's program to infiltrate mosques, and station "radiation detectors" outside of mosques. This sort of targeting of peaceful religious adherents and political groups is deeply troubling.

Yet the President and his supporters have included in the new version of the Patriot Act provisions burdening free speech by criminalizing people who enter into areas “cordoned off” or “restricted” by the Secret Service for “events of national significance” – like the President’s stage-managed speeches to carefully sanitized audiences.

Take the opportunity to join the chorus: call and write your Senators and Congressmen, and get your friends, neighbors, and colleagues to do the same. Tell your representatives that you reject the Conference Report and insist at a minimum on the full protections in the Senate version, as well as additional sunsets. Together, the people and the people’s representatives can recapture our vanishing freedoms.

Wednesday, January 25, 2006

January 25 is National Call in Day! Call Now!

Today, January 25, 2006 is a national call in day for reforming the Patriot Act.

Go here to make your phone call:

See the Bill of Rights Defense Committee's call in request here:

See the Top Five Reasons Conservatives Support a Careful Review of Key Patriot Act Provisions here:

Organizations supporting the call-in day (partial list) include the Alliance for Justice, American Arab Anti-Discrimination Committee, American Civil Liberties Union, American Library Association, Amnesty International USA, Bill of Rights Defense Committee, Campaign for Reader Privacy, Center for Democracy and Technology, Code Pink, Council on American-Islamic Relations, First Amendment Foundation, Friends Committee on National Legislation, Global Exchange, League of United Latin American Citizens, League of Women Voters, Liberty Coalition, Political Action, National Lawyers Guild, People For the American Way, Rights Working Group, San Francisco Labor Council, True Majority, Unitarian Universalist Association, and United Electrical, Radio and Machine Workers of America.

Monday, January 09, 2006

Letter from Several Senators to Judiciary Chairman Sen. Arlen Specter

Friday, January 6, 2006

The Honorable Arlen Specter
U.S. Senate Committee on the Judiciary
224 Dirksen Senate Office Building
Washington, DC 20510

Dear Chairman Specter:

We were gratified that Congress agreed to extend the expiring provisions of the USA PATRIOT Act at the end of last year’s Congressional session. Although the PATRIOT Act must be modified to better protect the constitutional rights of innocent Americans, the important tools the original law provides law enforcement in the fight against terrorism should not be allowed to expire.

This extension gives Congress and the Administration more time to add additional civil liberties safeguards to the PATRIOT Act reauthorization conference report – safeguards that in no way will hinder law enforcement’s ability to investigate and prosecute terrorists. As you will recall, last year we identified our most serious concerns with the conference report in a Dear Colleague letter (a copy of which is attached for your convenience).

We appreciate the hard work you have done to bring the Congress close to agreement on a final PATRIOT Act reauthorization bill. However, we still firmly believe that modest but critical changes can and must be made to the conference report to address the needs of law enforcement and protect the civil liberties of law-abiding Americans.

We look forward to working closely with you this month to pass an improved PATRIOT Act reauthorization bill before the expiring provisions sunset on February 3rd.


Larry E. Craig
Richard J. Durbin
John E. Sununu
Russell D. Feingold
Lisa Murkowski
Ken Salazar
Chuck Hagel
John F. Kerry
Barack Obama

Friday, January 06, 2006

Community Efforts to Change Patriot Act Paid Off; More Will be Needed Soon

A letter from former Rep. Bob Barr

Dear [Patriots to Restore Checks and Balances] Member:

Thank you for your efforts to help reform the USA Patriot Act. Because of your letters, emails, phone calls and faxes, Congress now understands that the American people strongly support reforming the act to protect civil liberties. Your tireless support for restoring constitutional checks and balances to the law helped lawmakers realize the importance of including meaningful checks on federal power in the final reauthorization bill. The fact that Congress passed a five-week extension to the Patriot Act instead of rushing through the flawed conference report at the eleventh hour is a testament to your efforts.

However, the battle is not over: Just because lawmakers agreed on an extension does not mean they will agree on the inclusion of critical civil liberties and privacy protections in the final bill. These protections are more important now than ever, given that the President has been authorizing intelligence investigators to spy on Americans citizens without warrants. This is a direct violation of federal surveillance laws that, although modified by permanent parts of the Patriot Act, never removed the requirement of judicial approval for wiretaps. Before extending the expiring parts of the Patriot Act, it is imperative that Congress agree to the Senate-passed amendment to Section 215, which would require the government to link the records it seeks to a suspected foreign terrorist, and apply a similar requirement to the National Security Letter (NSL) powers that were expanded by the Patriot Act.

When Congress reconvenes later this month, we will again enlist your support to encourage lawmakers to stand behind a Patriot Act reauthorization bill that does not infringe upon ordinary Americans’ Fourth Amendment right to privacy. This means withstanding increased pressure from the administration to support the flawed conference report, and instead supporting commonsense fixes that will keep Americans safe from the terrorist threat abroad and from unwarranted government snooping at home.

Thank you again for your continuing support.

Bob Barr
Chairman, Patriots to Restore Checks and Balances
Member of Congress, 1995-2003

Wednesday, January 04, 2006

New Year Brings Election Minded Campaign

Excerpts from the Washington Post

President Bush accused Democrats yesterday of blocking a full reauthorization of the USA Patriot Act for political reasons, as the White House stepped up an aggressive campaign to defend the president's terrorism-fighting authority.

The White House is bracing for a heated dispute over both the Patriot Act and the recent revelations that Bush secretly authorized the National Security Agency to monitor communications within the United States involving terrorism suspects overseas. Congress is planning hearings on the NSA program this month and another vote on the Patriot Act early next month, when the current extension expires.

Adopting campaign-style tactics, Bush and his aides plan to accuse Democrats of jeopardizing national security to further their political agenda, a tack that worked well for the White House in the 2002 and 2004 elections.

Read the full article here: