Reauthorization of expiring PATRIOT Act provisions necessary to stop terror plots

Stewart Baker [Partner, Steptoe & Johnson LLP]: "The US Senate Judiciary Committee's decision to reauthorize three provisions of the USA Patriot Act until 2013 is prudent. The parts of the Act set to expire this year include provisions that allow federal authorities to compel production of business, medical and library records, to conduct "roving" wiretaps, and to designate suspects as "lone wolf" agents of foreign powers.

Notwithstanding its demonization by opponents, the USA PATRIOT Act was a relatively modest set of changes that cleaned up and consolidated antiterrorism authorities. It allowed federal agencies to share information they were in large part already authorized to obtain. The Obama Administration deserves credit for recognizing the reality that these are authorities it will need to investigate and thwart terrorist plots. Unfortunately, it's being asked to accept new restrictions as part of the process, and some of those restrictions are dangerous.

Senator Feingold in particular has introduced - and the Senate Judiciary has approved - an amendment that puts dangerous limits on information sharing. It would require the FBI to "prohibit the dissemination...of nonpublicly available information" derived from national security letters. While the amendment allows exceptions to accommodate "the need to disseminate foreign intelligence" the effect of this amendment is almost certain to be a new wall between the FBI and other agencies — just the kind of thing that served us so poorly in the run-up to 9/11."

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