Attorney General Eric Holder endorsed the Senate’s version of legislation that would extend three provisions of the Patriot Act that are slated to expire at the end of the year.
Holder wrote in a letter today to Senate Judiciary Committee members that he offers “strong support” for the USA Patriot Act Sunset Extension Act, which would reauthorize the “lone wolf,” records and “roving wiretap” powers. By contrast, a House version of the bill would not continue the “lone wolf” provision, which lets the government track targets who don’t have any discernible affiliation with terrorist or other foreign groups.
The Attorney General also said he backs language in the legislation that would increase civil liberties and privacy protections. The bill was reported out of committee Oct. 8.
“We believe these measures will promote appropriate standards, oversight, and accountability, especially with respect to how information about United States persons is retained and disseminated, without sacrificing the operational effectiveness and flexibility of the underlying tools need to protect our citizens from terrorism and to facilitate the collection of vital foreign intelligence and counterintelligence information,” Holder wrote in the letter.
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 by the government.
- 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.
- 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.
But the Attorney General said he wasn’t entirely supportive of the bill’s language on national security letters, which are used by the FBI to obtain evidence without a court order. The Senate bill put more restrictions on the letters.
“While we are very pleased to be able to support the bill, we do have some concerns that we are working with the Committee to address before the measure reaches the floor,” Holder wrote.
The House version of the bill, which was reported out of the House Judiciary Committee last week, would also add more restrictions on the letter and increase civil liberties and privacy protections. But the legislation would only reauthorize the records and “roving wiretap” provisions and not the “lone wolf” power.
Holder has not publicly commented on the House version of the bill.