On December 31, three provisions of the USA PATRIOT Act that broadly expanded government surveillance authority in the wake of 9/11 are set to expire.1 The Obama Administration made clear in a letter this week to Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman Patrick Leahy that although the Justice Department supports reauthorization of those provisions, it is also open to discussing modifications to the law “to provide additional protection for the privacy of law abiding Americans.”
Senators Feingold and Durbin introduced the bill to capitalize on that opening for discussing amendment to these provisions. As a compromise the bill would renew two of the three provisions but with critical checks that would help restore protections against unjustified surveillance. It looks like it will go a long way towards reining back in the National Security Letters and even more critically would repeal immunity for the telcos that participated in the illegal but still contested wiretaps that the FISA Amendment Act protected.
It is too soon to make any predictions but I am optimistic about the chances for this bill. The concession of some powers to law enforcers may make the bill much more passable than past attempts at reform. The EFF in particular will be following the bill’s progress closely. If passed with the immunity repeal intact, it would allow their cases on the warrantless wiretaps to proceed.