Sen. Russ Feingold, D-Wisc., today introduced a bill limiting the FBIs ability to force enterprises to turn over private data about their clients and customers.
Under the USA Patriot Act, which passed shortly after the Sept. 11, 2001 terrorist attacks, the government can require companies to turn over records of Americans and non-Americans alike without showing how the information sought relates to a suspected terrorist or foreign agent.
Feingolds bill, the Library, Bookseller, and Personal Records Privacy Act, would limit the FBIs access to personal information by requiring the government to explain how the data relates to the target of an investigation.
Librarians have been particularly vocal in opposing the Act, and some have destroyed records of book and computer users, and others have posted signs on computers warning users that they could be monitored by the government, according to Feingolds office.
Feingold is one of a small handful of federal elected officials to endeavor to protect civil rights, including the Fourth Amendment right to privacy, as the government increases its police powers to combat terrorism.
Most members of Congress have been reticent on civil rights questions raised by the Patriot Act, but a grassroots movement against the act is growing steadily. More than 140 towns and localities have voted in opposition to the legislation, and yesterday the American Civil Liberties Union filed a lawsuit charging that it violates the First and Fourth Amendments.
The suit, filed on behalf of several Muslim, Arab and refugee assistance organizations, charges that Section 215 of the Patriot Act violates the First Amendment by, among other things, putting a gag order on ISPs and any other enterprise the FBI uses it on. Any company served with a Section 215 order is prohibited from ever disclosing that the FBI sought records from it. The suit names Attorney General John Ashcroft and FBI Director Robert Mueller as defendants.
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.