Under the radar, Obama admin pushes for Patriot Act renewal
With key sections of the U.S. Patriot Act set to expire Dec. 31, the Obama administration - essentially tiptoeing through the corridors of Congress and using the raucous health care debate as cover - has quietly maneuvered for renewal of the controversial provisions, which he opposed as a senator.
Perhaps the most contentious measure is the business records provision, also known as the library provision, which allows the government to seek a court order forcing private entities such as banks, hospitals, and libraries to hand over "any tangible thing" - from library circulation records to medical records - officials think is relevant in a terrorist investigation.
[...]Earlier this year, Sen. Russ Feingold (D-Wisconsin) had worked to place language in the bill strengthening civil liberties protections, but in the judiciary committee the Obama administration worked with Republicans to craft seven amendments, effectively watering down Feingold's work.
[...]Feingold did win an amendment that restricts so-called "sneak and peek" searches that allow the government to enter a home and perform a search without having to inform the subject of the search until months later. The senator's amendment requires that subjects of sneak-and-peek searches be notified within seven days, unless a judge grants an extension.
In 2008, the federal government reported 763 sneak-and-peak warrant requests and 528 requests for extensions, as of the year ending Sept. 30, 2008. Four of the applications were denied.
Only three of the 763 warrant requests were terrorism related. Sixty-five percent concerned drug investigations.
The first of the three provisions would allow a secret court to continue to permit "roving wiretaps" without the government identifying who is being targeted, or which specific phone lines or communication devices are to be monitored. What officials must do is assert that the target is an agent of a foreign power or a suspected terrorist.
The second provision, Section 215 of the Patriot Act, permits the FBI to ask a FISA, or secret court, to order the production of any item relevant to a FISA investigation. Specifically, section 215 permits the FBI to "make an application (to the court) for an order requiring the production of any tangible things (including books, records, papers, documents, and other items)..."
[...]Under the "lone wolf" statute, the U.S. may target for surveillance non-U.S. persons it believes are engaging in terrorism or are preparing to undertake terrorist activities, whether or not that person can be linked to a foreign power or organization. Previously, the government had to establish such a link.
[...]How time flies
As an Illinois senator in 2005, Barack Obama opposed the core of these provisions when they were up for renewal then, saying he wanted to safeguard the country from terrorist attack but had concerns about seeking business records and the wiretapping language.
[...]Three years later, however, Obama was singing a different tune, voting to allow warrantless wiretaps of Americans' calls if they were communicating overseas with somebody the government believed was linked to terrorism.
He also supported immunizing the nation's telecommunication companies from lawsuits charging that they had participated in the Bush administration's warrantless wiretapping program.