Attorney General Alberto Gonzales and FBI director Robert Mueller will supply answers to that question this week as they testify before the Senate and House Judiciary Committees. Key parts of the Patriot Act expire at the end of this year and Congress must decide whether to extend them, as well as whether to alter other parts of the statute. Senate Judiciary Committee chairman Arlen Specter wants the Patriot Act legislation passed by late summer. A left-right coalition, including the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) and Republican strategist Grover Norquist, is urging Congress to scale back the law.
The lightning rods for criticism include: Section 213, which permits judges to delay notifying a person whose home or property has been searched by federal agents, when delayed notification is necessary to prevent destruction of evidence, intimidation of witnesses, or escape of suspects. Section 215, which empowers a special court, under the 1978 Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act (FISA), to issue secret orders requiring businesses or institutions to turn over records concerning terrorists or foreign agents. Section 218, which expands the number of cases in which intelligence data can be given to prosecutors investigating foreign intelligence activities.
Section 505, which expanded FBI agents’ powers to seize certain records using a “national security letter,” a kind of subpoena, without getting permission from a judge. Section 802, which defines domestic terrorism. Sections 215 and 218 expire at the end of this year; the others listed above do not. (MORE)