Yesterday, the House passed a one-year extension of three expiring Patriot Act provisions without making much-needed changes to the overly broad surveillance bill.
With this extension, Congress failed to address proper privacy safeguards in the Patriot Act, including:
* Amending the national security letter (NSL) statute to ensure that the government obtains financial, communication and credit records only of people believed to be terrorists or spies;
* Requiring the government to convince a court that a national security gag order is necessary;
* Terminating the "lone wolf" authority that permits the government to spy on people who are not part of a terrorist organization; and
* Ensuring that the so-called "library records provision" does not authorize collection of library and bookstore records if they contain information on a patron unless he is a terrorist or spy.
Since the Patriot Act's passage in 2001, there have been several consecutive reports — including one released in January — from the Department of Justice Office of the Inspector General that have outlined widespread and blatant abuse of the statute. FBI agents routinely claimed false terrorism emergencies to use "exigent letters," or emergency letters, in order to gain private records for investigations when no emergency existed. The FBI also regularly issued NSLs after the fact in an attempt to legitimize the use of exigent letters.
"Though the debate over reauthorizing the Patriot Act may be over this year, Congress still has the power to narrow the use of NSL powers and help avoid such abuses in the future," said Michelle Richardson, ACLU Legislative Counsel. "It's time to rein in the overbroad power of the NSL and bring the statute back in line with the Constitution."
Although the outcome is not what we had hoped, we made progress. In the House, 97 representatives, 10 of which were Republicans, voted against extending the Patriot Act. Some members of Congress justified this extension by promising that the next year would provide time for real reform. You can bet we're going to hold them to their promise. And we'll be turning to you to help keep the pressure on.
Write congress, vote them out, or whatever your solution is.