SJC Work On PATRIOT Act Reauthorization Delayed At Request Of Committee Republicans

Leahy Begins Process To Make Bill Available For Immediate Consideration

WASHINGTON (Thursday, Feb. 3, 2011) – The Senate Judiciary Committee Thursday postponed action on legislation authored by Committee Chairman Patrick Leahy (D-Vt.) to extend provisions of the USA PATRIOT Act that expire in three weeks.  Committee Republicans exercised their rights under the Committee’s rules to postpone debate until the panel’s next meeting.  Leahy is expected to include the legislation, called the USA PATRIOT Act Sunset Extension Act, on the Committee’s next business meeting agenda. 

Also on Thursday, Leahy, in consultation with the Senate Democratic leadership, began the process of making the legislation available for immediate consideration by the full Senate under Rule XIV.  Three intelligence-gathering tools authorized by the USA PATRIOT Act are set to expire on February 28, including roving wiretaps, the “lone wolf” measure, and Section 215 orders for tangible things, commonly referred to as the “library records” provision.

“These surveillance authorities are set to expire in a matter of weeks,” said Leahy.  “I am committed to moving this legislation through the Judiciary Committee at our next business meeting, and it is unfortunate that we could not do so today.  But with just a few short weeks before these authorities are set to expire, I also want to ensure that the Majority Leader is able to turn to this bill for debate and consideration if he decides to do so.”

The USA PATRIOT Act Sunset Extension Act of 2011, which was introduced on Jan. 26, mirrors a bipartisan agreement reached in the last Congress to address the expiring authorities and increase oversight.  Leahy led Senate efforts in the 111th Congress to provide an extension through 2013 of the expiring provisions.  The USA PATRIOT Act Sunset Extension Act of 2011 also includes a number of provisions to improve oversight of intelligence-gathering tools, as well as an important sunset on National Security Letters, the use of which has received increased scrutiny in recent years.

“We should not play politics with national security,” said Leahy.  “I have conducted aggressive oversight of USA PATRIOT Act surveillance authorities since the bill was originally enacted in 2001. This bill makes important reforms to the USA PATRIOT Act, but also extends the sunsets to December 2013. It is virtually identical in substance to the version this Committee reported in 2009 with a bipartisan vote.”

A bipartisan majority of the Senate Judiciary Committee voted to send similar legislation to the full Senate in October 2009.   That bill was backed by the Obama administration.  In February 2010, Congress passed a one-year extension of the expiring provisions. 

Last year, at Leahy’s request, Attorney General Eric Holder and Department of Justice Inspector General Glenn Fine agreed to implement several key oversight and civil liberties provisions included in the 2009 bill.  The USA PATRIOT Act Sunset Extension Act will codify these important oversight and reporting requirements, ensuring that each is required by law rather than administrative action.

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