Leahy Renews Effort To Extend Expiring PATRIOT Act Authorities, Increase Oversight

WASHINGTON (Wednesday, Jan. 26, 2011) – Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman Patrick Leahy (D-Vt.) Wednesday introduced legislation to extend expiring provisions authorized by the USA PATRIOT Act. The provisions are set to expire on February 28.

The USA PATRIOT Act Sunset Extension Act of 2011 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, which include roving wiretaps, the “lone wolf” measure, and Section 215 orders for tangible things, commonly referred to as the “library records” provision. The USA PATRIOT Act Sunset Extension Act of 2011 also includes several 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.

“Congress now faces a deadline to take action on the expiring provisions of the USA PATRIOT Act,” said Leahy. “The USA PATRIOT Act Sunset Extension Act of 2011 will preserve law enforcement and intelligence techniques that are set to expire on February 28, 2011, and extend them to December 2013. It will also promote transparency and expand privacy and civil liberties safeguards in current law. It increases judicial oversight of government surveillance powers that capture information on Americans. This is a package of reforms that all Americans should support.”

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 Leahy-authored legislation introduced on Tuesday will codify these important oversight and reporting requirements, ensuring that each is required by law rather than administrative action.

“The Senate should pass the USA PATRIOT Act Sunset Extension Act of 2011 to codify the steps forward that the Attorney General has taken by implementing parts of the bill administratively,” Leahy said. “The reforms adopted by this Attorney General could be undone by a future Attorney General with the stroke of a pen. We must ensure that the progress in accountability and transparency that we achieved last year is not lost simply because it was never written into the statute.”

The legislation will be referred to the Senate Judiciary Committee, and Leahy is expected to list it for Committee consideration soon. The text of the USA PATRIOT Act Sunset Extension Act of 2011 is available here. A section-by-section analysis for background purposes can be found here.