Patriot Act Provision Challenged in Court
ACLU challenges FBI's expanded powers to search and seize private records.The expanded powers that Congress gave the FBI to search and seize private recordsas well as other personal information and belongingshave been a source of criticism since the new authorities were enacted as part of the Patriot Act shortly after the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks. More than 140 towns and other localities around the country have voted in opposition to the Act, and today, the American Civil Liberties Union is challenging the new powers in court. The focus of the lawsuit is Section 215 of the Act, which gives the FBI greater powers to secretly procure records of people in the United States, including citizens. The FBI does not have to show probable cause that the target of an investigation is a criminal suspect or a foreign agent, and it never has to notify the target. The suit names Attorney General John Ashcroft and FBI Director Robert Mueller as defendants. The government can use the provision to force Internet Service Providers and any other enterprise, including hospitals, telephone companies and universities, to hand over the records of any individual, as long as the records are being sought for a foreign intelligence, counterintelligence or international terrorism investigation.
Under a previous law, the FBI could demand business records from companies like car rental agencies, storage facilities, and telephone companies if it had specific facts leading it to believe that the records pertained to a foreign agent. Under the Patriot Act, the FBI can demand any records from any company and without showing criminal or foreign intelligence probable cause.