November 16, 2005
Still PATRIOTic After All These Years
This deal is probably the best we can get to extend and make permanent the PATRIOT Act, and I think Bush ought to grab it and sign as soon as it's on his desk, lest the whole thing fall apart.
My only real regret is that they didn't seize the opportunity to change the absurd acronymic name, which reads in full "Uniting and Strengthening America by Providing Appropriate Tools Required to Intercept and Obstruct Terrorism Act," or the USA PATRIOT Act. Yeesh!
House and Senate negotiators struck a tentative deal on the expiring Patriot Act that would curb FBI subpoena power and require the Justice Department to more fully report its secret requests for information about ordinary people, according to officials involved in the talks.
The agreement, which would make most provisions of the existing law permanent, was reached just before dawn Wednesday. But by midmorning GOP leaders had already made plans for a House vote on Thursday and a Senate vote by the end of the week. That would put the centerpiece of President Bush's war on terror on his desk before Thanksgiving, a month before more than a dozen provisions were set to expire.
Here are the basic provisions, at least according to the Associated Press's Laurie Kellman:
- All existing provisions of the PATRIOT Act become permanent except those listed in the next bullet point.
- The exceptions are rules on wiretapping and obtaining records from businesses under the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act (FISA -- this is the infamous "library records" provision), which sunset after seven years unless renewed by Congress.
- The deal enacts new rules allowing for better monitoring of "lone wolf" terrorists.
Examples of lone wolves include the Beltway snipers, John Allen Muhammed and Lee Malvo, and Hesham Mohamed Hadayet, who opened fire on the El Al ticket counter at Los Angeles International Airport on Uly 4th, 2002: none of these people had contact with al-Qaeda or other known terrorist organizations, but they nevertheless "took up the sword" on their own nut to "kill the infidel." These new rules also sunset in seven years unless renewed.
- The Justice Department must "report to Congress" each year about how many "national security letters" they have sent out.
These are letters demanding various business and phone records and imposing a legal requirement of silence on the recipient about having received such a letter. Currently, before submitting such a letter, law-enforcement officers must first apply to the FISA Court -- a special, secret court set up specifically to issue subpoenas and warrants related to cases involving espionage, foreign sabotage, and other actions of foreign agents; the original PATRIOT Act added terrorist investigations to the list of those handled by the FISA Court, whose warrants and subpoenas are kept secret. (Of course, once a person is arrested, he is tried by an ordinary federal court.)
I hope there is enough wiggle room in the agreement to restrict notification to those members of Congress who sit on the House or Senate Intelligence Committees; otherwise, all this classified information will instantly be leaked to the press by Democrats for political advantage.
- Before sending national-security letters, law-enforcement officials would have to submit a new "statement of facts" to the FISA Court showing "reasonable grounds to believe the records are relevant to an investigation."
They would also need to show that the individual whose records are sought is in contact with an agent of a foreign power or known terrorist organization. (I suppose if the DOJ cannot show this, they would have to operate under the "lone wolf" rules instead.)
- The deal places "modest new requirements on so-called roving wiretaps."
The AP articles does not say specifically what those requirements are. I tried to Google for more information, but every article was simply an exact reprint of this AP story. We'll probably know more later this week, when the House and Senate votes occur.
The deal does not cover several ancillary provisions that had been sought by Republicans via amendment but to which the Democrats objected, including limitations on federal appeals of state court decisions, tightening of sex-offender registration laws, and better courthouse security. Presumably those will have to be brought up separately later.
All in all, this is a pretty darned good compromise, and it's likely the best we can possibly get. It's also proof that rumors of President Bush's political expiry are greatly exaggerated: he's still got it!
Hatched by Dafydd on this day, November 16, 2005, at the time of 2:04 PM
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Listed below are links to weblogs that reference Still PATRIOTic After All These Years:
» Maybe Not So PATRIOTic After All from Big Lizards
So just hours after agreeing to a compromise extension of the USA Patriot Act, Democrats abruptly balked, giving no reason why they would pull out now after having agreed early this same morning. A tentative agreement to renew the Patriot... [Read More]
Tracked on November 16, 2005 9:32 PM
» Filibuster Against PATRIOTism? from Big Lizards
That's the implication from a bipartisan group of six senators who are so upset that we keep paying more attention to protecting the American people against terrorism than we do to protecting the sacred civil liberties of terrorists that they... [Read More]
Tracked on November 17, 2005 9:03 PM
The following hissed in response by: cdquarles
If you want info about bills, go to thomas.loc.gov and follow the links to the House of Representatives and the Senate. I have bookmarked this site since the hillarycare debacle.
The above hissed in response by: cdquarles at November 16, 2005 10:33 PM
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