Leahy Intros Patriot Act Bill With Some Restrictions; ACLU Says Not Enough

Following on the heels of a House Republican’s alteration-free one-year extension of the expiring Patriot Act provisions, Sen. Patrick Leahy, chairman of the Judiciary Committee, has introduced his own extension that would add some restrictions to the so-called library provision.

That’s great, says the ACLU. But it’s not enough.Leahy’s proposed legislation, which closely echoes legislation he proposed last Congress, would extend the two expiring provisions — one that authorizes “roving surveillance” and another that allows the feds to pull “tangible records” like library, Internet and bank records — for two more years.

The second provision, known alternately as the library provision, Section 215 and the FISA provision, allows the federal government, under the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act, demand any “tangible” records that they believe would help a terrorism investigation. There’s not a high bar to get court approval for those records, and feds may impose a gag order on the library, ISP or bank — meaning the subject of a records search may never know their records were pulled.

Leahy’s bill would raise the bar. The feds would do more to show a court that they need the records. The people who get the orders for records — called “National Security Letters” — could challenge the gag order immediately, instead of waiting a year.

The ACLU’s lead lobbyist on the Patriot Act says that’s a step in the right direction. But it’s not enough. What the ACLU wants, and has wanted for years, is for the FISA provision to be limited only to suspected terrorists, instead of anyone whose records the FBI thinks could be useful to a terrorism investigation.

“215 should be limited to collecting information on suspected terrorists and spies,” Michelle Richardson tells TPM. “That being said, the bill contains some important oversight provisions that should certainly be written into law.”

A spokeswoman for Leahy says he’s not planning to hold hearings on the extension but would prefer to send it straight to mark-up. The provisions expire on Feb. 28.