House and Senate negotiators reached an agreement Thursday to extend the USA Patriot Act before it expires Dec. 31, the Associated Press reported today. The agreement, announced by Senate Judiciary Chairman Arlen Specter, R.-Pa., would extend for four years some of the most controversial provisions in the law, including permitting secret warrants for books, records and other items from public libraries and businesses. It would also extend for four years the authorization of roving wiretaps.
The Associated Press report notes:
The compromise also makes changes to national security letters, an investigative tool used by the FBI to compel businesses to turn over customer information without a court order or grand jury subpoena. Under the agreement, the reauthorization specifies that an NSL can be reviewed by a court, and explicitly allows those who receive the letters to inform their lawyers about them.
The Bush administration contends that such consultation already is allowed, citing at least two court challenges to NSLs. However, in a letter obtained by the American Civil Liberties Union under the Freedom of Information Act and posted on its Web site, the FBI prohibits the recipient “from disclosing to any person that the FBI has sought or obtained access to information or records under these provisions.”
A group of six senators led by Wisconsin Demoract Russ Feingold said they would seek to block the act and threatened a filibuster. The American Civil Liberties Union (www.aclu.org/safefree) immediately denounced the deal, saying the legislation intrudes too far into the privacy of innocent Americans, the Associated Press reported.