By Eric W. Dolan
Wednesday, February 23rd, 2011 -- 10:37 pm
A Democratic senator from Oregon said Tuesday that Congress must use the three month extension of the PATRIOT Act to amend the legislation so that it does not violate American's civil liberties.
"Americans deserve laws that strike the best possible balance between fighting terrorism ferociously and protecting the rights and freedoms of law-abiding American citizens," Senator Ron Wyden, a senior member of the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence, said in a statement.
Congress passed a bill last week that extended three controversial provisions of the USA PATRIOT Act until May 27.
The bill is expected to be signed into law by President Barack Obama in the coming days.
"The Patriot Act does not strike that balance," he continued. "It was written and passed six weeks after the worst terrorist attack in our nation’s history. Congress wisely included sunset dates for the Patriot Act’s most controversial provisions, so that they could be thoughtfully considered at a later time. After ten years, it is clearly time for that debate."
Last week, Sen. Wyden introduced a bill to narrow the PATRIOT Act's section 215 provision, which allows law enforcement to obtain "any tangible thing," including library and bookstore records.
Under the PATRIOT Act, that information can be obtained without demonstrating that the person whose records are sought is connected to terrorism in any way.
"Government agents should not be able to collect this sort of information on law abiding American citizens without showing that they have at least some connection to terrorism or other nefarious activities," Sen Wyden said.
Wyden's bill would force law enforcement to demonstrate that the records were in some way connected to terrorism or clandestine intelligence activities before gathering the information.
"Senator Wyden should be commended for his effort to narrow the Patriot Act’s reach," ACLU Legislative Counsel Michelle Richardson said. "Holding law enforcement accountable for how it uses its authority will not only help to protect Americans’ privacy, it will ultimately keep us safer. We hope the Senate will strongly consider this bill in the next three months as it moves forward with debate on Patriot Act."
Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman Patrick Leahy (D-VT) has also recently sought to reform the PATRIOT Act by increasing judicial oversight of government surveillance powers.
"I support strengthening oversight while providing the intelligence community the certainty it needs to protect national security," Sen Leahy said. "The bill I hope we will consider before May 27 would give the intelligence community the certainty it needs by extending these expiring authorities while also strengthening congressional and judicial oversight."
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