Dems fight to lessen US gov domestic spying

The Patriot Act, drawn up and passed within weeks of 9/11, is under review. Three major Patriot Act provisions will expire at the end of the year, and it seems that a revised version of the act may decrease shady government spying or at least increase transparency around it – if a group of Democratic senators has its way.

The three expiring allowances are:

1.    A secret court – FISA – can grant officials the authority to use wiretaps on unnamed targets as long as the officials say that the target is suspected of terrorism or of being an agent of a foreign country (about 22 granted per year).
2.    FISA can also grant warrants for access to any kind of business records, so long as it has been asserted that the records are relevant to foreign intelligence and the fight against terrorism (about 220 granted from 2004-2007).
3.    FISA can, in extenuating circumstances, grant warrants for the electronic monitoring of a person who may not be suspected of terrorism or of being the agent of a foreign country (none granted thus far, apparently).

The other controversial spy law currently being discussed is last year’s telco-immunity legislation, which protected telecom companies facing lawsuits for allegedly sharing with the Bush government Americans’ private communications data without legal court warrants.

Patriot Act cartoonA bunch of Democrats, including Senator Russ Feingold from Wisconsin who was the only senator who voted against the passing of the Patriot Act, want to revoke the immunity legislation. They also want to limit the government in its ability to issue ‘National Security Papers,’ which basically allow the FBI to get its hands on any telecoms, financial or credit information ‘relevant to an investigation’ without court order (about 50,000 issued annually). The aforementioned group of Democrats proposes to limit the papers to investigations pertaining to terrorism and foreign agent activities. Because right now, the majority of investigations have nothing to do with terrorism (think drugs), and there are reportedly searches being conducted that are not even related to an authorized investigation.

Finally, Feingold & co. want mandatory reporting on the number of people and businesses being spied under the Patriot Act. Although the government has released info to this effect, all reporting thus far has been voluntary.


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