House Panel Advances Patriot Act Extension, Without Reforms
by Gavin Baker
May 13, 2011
The House Judiciary Committee yesterday voted to reauthorize key provisions of the USA PATRIOT Act. The committee also rejected several proposals to reform the controversial provisions of the intelligence law.
Three provisions of the law are set to expire on May 27, after having received a brief extension earlier this year. The expiring provisions authorize the secret Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court to grant warrants to federal investigators for "roving wiretaps" of an individual; for surveillance of a foreign citizen, even without showing that the person is a terrorist or foreign agent; and for "business records," including library records.
The committee voted 22-13 to report H.R. 1800, largely along party lines, with all but one Republican in favor. The bill would extend the roving wiretap and business records provisions through 2017, and would make the "lone wolf" provision permanent.
In addition, the committee voted down several amendments that would institute reforms, including proposals to increase transparency and oversight. Rep. Judy Chu (D-CA) offered an amendment to require public reporting on how the Patriot Act is being used as well as inspector general audits. Rep. J. Randy Forbes (R-VA) argued the amendment was unnecessary, stating, "we've got more than enough oversight" of the Patriot Act already.
A different amendment by Chu proposed to eliminate the one-year waiting period to seek judicial review of gag orders imposed on people subjected to FISA warrants for business records. In addition, those individuals would be notified of their right to challenge the order.
Rep. Sheila Jackson Lee (D-TX) offered an amendment requiring the President to prepare an assessment of whether the FISA court's secrecy is "necessary and effective," or if greater transparency would be preferable. All of the amendments were defeated along party lines.
Both Chu amendments are similar to language included in S. 193, Sen. Patrick Leahy (D-VT)'s reform bill which the Senate Judiciary Committee reported in March. Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-NV) pledged to hold at least a week of debate on the Patriot Act in that chamber, which has not yet been scheduled.
The expiring Patriot Act provisions raise serious civil liberties questions. If Congress decides it necessary to extend these powers, they should give significant consideration to the transparency reforms which have been proposed by Leahy and others. Reining in the secrecy around these powers, if they continue, could help reduce the risk of the government abusing them.back to Blog