FBI Director Robert S. Mueller III wants two "exceptional" investigational provisions of the USA Patriot Act – both set to expire in December – to get new life for the good of national security.
Mueller told members of the Senate Judiciary Committee Wednesday that national security investigations would be hampered without being able to get certain business records without notice to the target, and without being able to use a single warrant that covers all of a suspect’s electronic gadgetry.
Mueller said his agents used the former provision about 220 times between 2004 and 2007 and that the latter roving wiretap of terrorism suspects was used 147 times, according to a report in the Washington Post.
But these vital methods of securing a terror suspect’s financial, travel, and telephone records have long been criticized by the American Civil Liberties Union, which argues that the provisions violate the First Amendment rights of U.S. citizens. Indeed, the ACLU published a report this month describing “widespread abuse” of government authority under the Patriot Act.
“The Patriot Act has been disastrous for Americans’ rights,” said Caroline Frederickson, director of the ACLU’s Washington Legislative Office. “Congress should use this year’s Patriot Act reauthorization as an opportunity to reexamine all of our surveillance laws.”
Meanwhile, David Kris, an expert on intelligence laws and the new chief of the Justice Department’s National Security Division, appears ready to humor some skittish Democrats in Congress while not crippling the FBI’s national security operations.
“It is important that [Congress] examine more specifics,” Cardin told the FBI director. “We want to make sure you have the tools that you need and that you have appropriate oversight. There may need to be modifications . . . a fine-tuning of these provisions to make sure they are effective and used as intended by Congress.”
In his statement before congress yesterday, Mueller told lawmakers that terrorists are focusing on attacking inside America’s borders.
“As you know, terrorism remains our top priority. We have not had a terrorist attack on American soil in more than seven years. But we are not safe, as illustrated by the recent attacks in Mumbai, India.
“Today, we still face threats from al Qaeda. But we must also focus on less well-known terrorist groups, as well as homegrown terrorists. And we must consider extremists from visa-waiver countries, who are merely an e-ticket away from the United States.
“We are also concerned about the threat of home-grown terrorists. Over the years since September 11, 2001, we have learned of young men from communities in the United States, radicalized and recruited here to travel to countries such as Afghanistan or Iraq, Yemen or Somalia. We must also focus on extremists who may be living here in the United States, in the very communities they intend to attack.”
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