Congress, Obama to Revisit Patriot Act

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President Barack Obama supports renewing several key provisions of the USA PATRIOT Act, including one concerning business records, which expire at the end of this year unless renewed by Congress.

The provisions concern the government's authority to monitor "lone wolf' terrorist suspects, conduct roving wiretaps, and access business records, according to the Associated Press (AP).

Civil liberties supporters dislike the provision allowing government access to business records because, they have argued, it allows too much intrusion into people's private lives. For example, the provision allows the government to demand a person's library records. Between 2004 and 2007, the AP reported officials used the business records provision 220 times, usually alongside requests for phone records.

The lone wolf provision was created to give government officials the authority to conduct surveillance on suspects who do not appear to be connected to a foreign government or terrorist group. The AP said it has not been used to date.

The wiretaps provision, which has been used more than 20 times annually, allows investigators to monitor a suspect's communications when he or she changes a communication device, without having to obtain a new court order.

In a letter to Congress, the U.S. Justice Department (DOJ) wrote that the Obama administration supports renewing the three expiring provisions. The letter also said Obama, who is an expert in U.S. constitutional law, would also support additional civil rights and privacy protections if they did not weaken the law.

U.S. senators Russ Feingold (D-Wis.) and Dick Durbin (D-Ill.), who have said they plan to review the USA PATRIOT Act and related surveillance laws, will no doubt be key players in reauthorization talks between the administration and Congress.

Feingold and Durbin have informed Attorney General Eric Holder and the chairmen of the Senate Judiciary and Intelligence committees they intend to once again seek reasonable reforms that will protect the constitutional rights of American citizens, while preserving the government's powers to fight terrorism. …