Friday, October 9, 2009

Senate Judiciary Paves Way for USA PATRIOT Act Extension

A bill extending parts of the USA PATRIOT Act (trivia fact: the name is actually an acronym standing for "Uniting and Strengthening America by Providing Appropriate Tools Required to Intercept and Obstruct Terrorism") passed through the Senate Judiciary Committee yesterday. The bill that passed through the committee does not change very much of the act but it does affect one notably controversial provision - the one dealing with National Security Letters ("NSL's). NSL's are essentially administrative subpoenas that are issued by the FBI and other agencies to obtain information about individuals from companies such as telecommunications companies and financial companies. The controversial aspect of NSL's was the virtual absence of judicial oversight. A federal agency could essentially send the NSL out to a company with no review or sanction by a court and there was no way for the company to challenge the subpoena. The lack of judicial oversight has since changed, but the NSL's are still controversial. The new proposed bill coming out of the Senate Judiciary contains some changes that would tighten up the standard for issuance of NSL's and require "specific facts" as to relevance.

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