"Benjamin Franklin once said that a country that would give up their liberties for security deserves neither," Sen. Patrick Leahy (D-VT) remarked yesterday. "Well, we can have our security. We can have our liberties." Unfortunately, the Patriot Act deal reached by House and Senate negotiators yesterday does not accomplish that. Specifically, it doesn't do enough to protect the privacy rights of ordinary Americans. Government investigators can still obtain personal data too easily and operate without proper supervision from the courts. The bill is already causing a stir on Capitol Hill. A bipartisan group of six Senators -- Sens. Larry Craig (R-ID), John Sununu (R-NH), Lisa Murkowski (R-AK), Richard Durbin (D-IL), Ken Salazar (D-CO), Russ Feingold (D-WI) -- have come out against it, saying they are "gravely disappointed," and Feingold has threatened to block the legislation with a filibuster. To learn more about why Congress should reject the Patriot Act conference report, read this statement from American Progress.

WEAK PROTECTIONS AGAINST NATIONAL SECURITY LETTERS: The government began issuing National Security Letters (NSLs) in the 1970s as "narrow exceptions in consumer privacy law, enabling the FBI to review in secret the customer records of suspected foreign agents." The Patriot Act "transformed those letters by permitting clandestine scrutiny of U.S. residents and visitors who are not alleged to be terrorists or spies." NSL recipients are not allowed to tell anyone they have received them. The Washington Post reported last month that the FBI now hands out over 30,000 national security letters per year, "a hundredfold increase over historic norms," which are allowing the government to view "as never before into the telephone calls, correspondence and financial lives of ordinary Americans." Yesterday's compromise does not do enough to protect the civil liberties of the citizens these letters target. The extended NSL authority will not sunset like other controversial sections of the Patriot Act and investigators can still force courts to accept the government's argument that NSL gag orders should not be lifted.

OBTAINING PERSONAL RECORDS STILL TOO EASY: The controversial issue of library record searches intensified earlier this year, after an American Library Association (ALA) report found that "U.S. law enforcement authorities made more than 200 requests for information from libraries since October 2001." The ALA said at the time, "What this says to us is that agents are coming to libraries and they are asking for information at a level that is significant, and the findings are completely contrary to what the Justice Department has been trying to convince the public." The compromise sunsets the Patriot Act's infamous "library provisions" in four years, but will not tighten the standards the government needs to subpoena personal information. The government can still obtain personal data merely by showing "relevance" to a terrorism investigation.

Informant: Scott Munson


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