WASHINGTON (10/23/2003) - Lawmakers are looking to make changes to the USA Patriot Act. Amendments to the law that rein in some investigative powers and promote privacy are now being pushed in both houses of Congress.
A bill introduced in the House this week suggests six main amendments to the Act, including oversight of online and telephone surveillance methods adopted by the FBI in the aftermath of the September 11, 2001 terrorist attacks. Called the Security and Freedoms Ensured (SAFE) Act, House Resolution 3352 is nearly identical to one introduced in the Senate last week.
The bill also would limit the delay of notification for search warrants, and protect library and bookseller records from federal investigators. The House bill adds a provision to protect political protesters from being labeled terrorists.
Like the Senate bill, the House bill has received bipartisan support and is sponsored by five Democrats, four Republicans, and an Independent.
"This is an issue that really transcends political affiliation," says Lara Flint, a lawyer with the Center for Democracy and Technology.
The SAFE Act is a reasonable response to Patriot Act concerns, says Rep. C.L. "Butch" Otter (R-Idaho), a sponsor. Saturday is the second anniversary of the passage of the Patriot Act, which is set to expire in 2005. Congress is considering a wide variety of legislation, including measures to expand and extend it, and others to curtail it.
"We must reinstate the oversight necessary to protect our civil liberties without taking away the tools needed by law enforcement to overcome terrorism," Otter said in a statement. "We must be diligent in our crusade to protect these freedoms, and I believe the SAFE Act takes the right steps."
Another sponsor, Rep. Mike Simpson (R-Idaho) calls portions of the Patriot Act "onerous."
Because of the Patriot Act's youth, it is difficult to say whether the FBI has wrongly investigated anyone under its surveillance provisions, Flint notes. But both the House and Senate legislation would limit the potential for abuse.
"It helps to ensure that the FBI does not end up monitoring innocent conversations and innocent Internet usage," she says.
Last year, the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) requested information under the Freedom of Information Act on how the Patriot Act had been applied. Much of the response was blacked out. The ACLU and online privacy rights organizations, including the Electronic Frontier Foundation and the Center for Democracy and Technology, have been consistent critics of the Patriot Act.
Bowman writes for the Medill News Service.