Last Friday night, the Senate unexpectedly and unanimously passed a bill renewing the parts of the USA PATRIOT Act set to expire at the end of the year. The House already passed a similar bill on July 21st, so the only step left is a conference for the House and Senate to resolve any differences. The President is then expected to sign the bill into law on September 11, 2005.
Here's where you come in. With PATRIOT renewal now a certainty, the priority is to make sure the final bill looks more like the Senate than the House version -- that is, to ensure that it contains as many checks and balances to protect your privacy and civil liberties as possible.
In particular, the Senate bill tackles two PATRIOT provisions that let the FBI secretly get records about you. Under Sections 215 and 505, the FBI can serve your doctor, banker, librarian, or ISP with a secret order for their records, along with a gag order that prohibits them from ever telling you or anyone else about it. The Senate bill would give the recipients of these secret orders the chance to challenge them in court -- a key reform that may not survive the conference process if more citizens don't speak up to support it.
As soon as we've identified the members of Congress who will be conferring on the bill, we'll issue an action alert so you can tell your representatives you support these checks. In addition, we'll keep you updated on Doe v Gonzales -- a case in which EFF is helping to challenge the constitutionality of National Security Letters, or NSLs -- the FBI's "roll-your-own" secret subpoena power that was expanded via Section 505.