The Senate Judiciary Committee approved legislation today that would extend certain controversial provisions of the Patriot Act that are slated to expire at the end of the year.
The panel voted 11-8 to report the bill out of committee. The legislation would reauthorize three government powers used in counter-terrorism investigations, but provide greater congressional oversight of the authorities.
“I remain mindful of our responsibility to ensure both security and liberty as we proceed,” Senate Judiciary Committee Chair Patrick Leahy (D-Vt.) said in a statement. “Our bill will provide the tools that are needed to protect us, while increasing the protections of our vital constitutional rights, as well.”
The Obama administration supports reauthorizing the expiring provisions.
Congressional Democrats previously expressed frustration with the Justice Department’s refusal to comment on any language in the bill that would authorize greater congressional oversight of the sun-setting powers.
Republicans have questioned the need for additional oversight of the provisions. Senate Judiciary Committee Ranking Member Jeff Sessions (R-Ala.) said at a hearing last month that there is no indication that “there have been any abuses to date,” according to The Associated Press.
Here is a summary of the provisions:
- Lone wolf: Allows government to track a target without any discernible affiliation to a foreign power, such as an international terrorist group. The provision only applies only to non-U.S. persons. It has never been used in a FISA application.
- Business records: Allows investigators to compel third parties, including financial services and travel and telephone companies, to provide them access to a suspect’s records without the suspect’s knowledge. From 2004 to 2007, the FISA court issued about 220 orders to produce business records.
- Roving wiretaps: Allows the government to monitor phone lines or Internet accounts that a terrorism suspect may be using, whether or not others who are not suspects also regularly use them. The government must provide the FISA court with specific information showing the suspect is purposely switching means of communication to evade detection. The government has applied for roving wiretaps an average of 22 times a year since 2001.