Senators Seek to Amend Patriot Act

Senators concerned about civil rights are looking to reinstate limits on government surveillance powers.

WASHINGTON—Senators concerned about the impact of the USA Patriot Act on civil rights spoke out today in favor of amending the hastily passed law to reinstate limits on government surveillance powers. Proponents of amending the USA Patriot Act hope to see such legislation included in one of the spending bills Congress plans to pass before adjourning this year.

As grass roots momentum grows to curb some of the more far-reaching government surveillance authorities enacted in the wake of the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks, members of Congress are responding. Much of the concern is aimed at provisions that give the FBI new powers to monitor Americans with little judicial oversight.

The latest legislative initiative, the Security and Freedom Ensured (SAFE) Act, was introduced earlier this month by Sen. Larry Craig, R-Idaho. The bipartisan-sponsored bill would place checks on the FBIs powers, including additional congressional and judicial oversight on the agency.

The bill would require that before the FBI could obtain a secret court order to obtain the business records—including medical and financial records—of an individual, it would have to show some evidence that the subject is a suspected terrorist or spy.

The measure would also limit the much-criticized "sneak and peek" provisions of the USA Patriot Act, which allow law enforcement to use search warrants before notifying the target. The SAFE Act would require that the subject be notified within seven days unless a court approves an extension. It would also limit the use of sneak and peek search warrants to situations where there was a risk of death, flight or evidence being destroyed.

The measure has won the support of privacy rights advocates, including the Center for Democracy and Technology and the American Civil Liberties Union.

According to Craigs office, a House version of the bill is in the works by Reps. Butch Otter, R-Idaho, and Mike Simpson, R-Idaho.