Leahy To File Bipartisan Amendment To PATRIOT Act Extension Bill

WASHINGTON (Monday, May 23, 2011) – Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman Patrick Leahy (D-Vt.) will file an amendment later today to legislation pending before the Senate that will extend expiring provisions of the USA PATRIOT Act until June 1, 2015.  The Leahy-authored amendment will be cosponsored by Kentucky Republican Rand Paul and others, and closely tracks legislation Leahy introduced earlier this year.  That bill won approval by a bipartisan majority of the Senate Judiciary Committee in March.

The three expiring provisions of the USA PATRIOT Act include roving wiretaps, the “lone wolf” measure, and section 215 orders for tangible things, commonly referred to as the “library records” provision.  The authorities were originally set to expire in December 2009.  Leahy first proposed legislation to reauthorize the intelligence-gathering tools in September 2009.  The bill won bipartisan support in the Senate Judiciary Committee in 2009, and was backed by the Obama administration, the Attorney General, and the Director of National Intelligence.

In January, Leahy reintroduced the USA PATRIOT Act Sunset Extension Act, which mirrored the legislation first proposed in 2009. That bill, too, received bipartisan support from members of the Judiciary Committee.

After a series of short-term extensions, the authorities are now set to expire on Friday, May 27.  The Senate will vote tonight on a procedural motion to begin debate on legislation offered by the Senate majority and minority leaders to provide a straight extension of the authorities until June 1, 2015, more than five years after the original expiration date, and nine years after legislative improvements to the original USA PATRIOT Act were last enacted.  The bill, however, makes no additional improvements to the law.

The text of the Leahy-Paul amendment is available online.

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For Guidance Purposes
Background On The Leahy-Paul Amendment To S. 1038
Protecting National Security – Promoting Transparency and Civil Liberties

BACKGROUND: On Monday, May 23, Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman Patrick Leahy (D-Vt.) will file an amendment to S. 1038.  The underlying bill will extend expiring provisions of the USA PATRIOT Act, but makes no improvements to current law.  The Leahy-authored amendment is cosponsored by Senator Rand Paul (R-Ky.), and is based largely on the text of S. 193RS, the USA PATRIOT Act Sunset Extension Act of 2011, a bill favorably reported with bipartisan support by the Judiciary Committee in March.  The text of the amendment is available online.

Sunset on National Security Letters

A National Security Letter (NSL) is a surveillance tool that allows intelligence officials to obtain certain types of communications and financial records sought in connection with intelligence and national security investigations. 

Under current law, the government can obtain such records if the information sought is relevant to an investigation to protect against international terrorism or espionage.  The government does not need to show that the records sought pertain to or are otherwise connected to a foreign power or an agent of a foreign power. 

Section 505 of the 2001 USA PATRIOT Act dramatically expanded the NSL authorities. The result of these changes is that the FBI may now obtain information on those who are not the subjects of national security investigations.

THE LEAHY-PAUL AMENDMENT: Adds a new sunset on National Security Letters (NSLs) to December 31, 2013. 

Oversight and Accountability

Reporting requirements and audits promote accountability and oversight of authorities.  Audits by the Inspector General in 2007 and 2008 revealed wide-spread abuse of National Security Letters, leading to reforms within the FBI in the issuance of NSLs.

THE LEAHY-PAUL AMENDMENT:  Requires Inspector General audits on the use of surveillance authorities, including on the issuance of National Security Letters and orders for tangible things. 


THE LEAHY-PAUL AMENDMENT:  Expands public reporting on the use of National Security Letters and authorities under the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act.  Reporting requirements promote accountability and oversight.


Protections for the Privacy of Americans


THE LEAHY-PAUL AMENDMENT:  Requires the government to show relevance to an authorized investigation and a link to a foreign group or power in order to obtain highly sensitive library circulation records or patron lists, and book seller records.

THE LEAHY-PAUL AMENDMENT:  Strikes the one-year waiting period before a recipient can challenge a nondisclosure order for Section 215 orders and strikes the conclusive presumption in favor of the government on nondisclosure. 

Constitutional Protections

A 2008 Second Circuit court ruling in Doe v. Mukasey, now applied nationwide by the FBI, requires that the government provide notice to recipients of nondisclosure orders that they may contest the order.  The recipient notifies the government that it wishes to challenge the nondisclosure order. The government must initiate a judicial review proceeding to maintain the nondisclosure order. 


THE LEAHY-PAUL AMENDMENT:  Fixes the constitutional deficiency found by the Second Circuit Court of Appeals in Doe v. Mukasey by shifting the burden to the government to seek a court order for an NSL non-disclosure order, and allows the recipient of such a non-disclosure order to challenge it at any time.  This fix is noncontroversial, and PATRIOT Act extension legislation introduced by the former Republican Ranking Members of the Senate Judiciary Committee and the Senate Intelligence Committee in the 111th Congress included this provision.

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Press Contact

David Carle: 202-224-3693