Last week, as Senators and Congresspersons met in conference to negotiate the final PATRIOT reauthorization bill, we had high hopes that they would add meaningful new checks and balances to the USA PATRIOT Act.
But EFF has obtained a draft of the final conference report (in three parts: one, two, and three). It is exactly what we feared: the same old PATRIOT Act, with a grab-bag of illusory reforms that will do little to curb abuse of the Act's most dangerous powers.
Indeed, the bill actually makes some PATRIOT powers worse. For example, even though the Washington Post recently revealed widespread abuse of the "National Security Letter" (NSL) power to secretly demand records of tens of thousands of ordinary Americans, the bill actually strengthens this power by adding new criminal penalties for NSL recipients who speak out about their experience.
The final bill defies the will of Congress, jettisoning reforms that were in the draft bills. Both the House and Senate voted overwhelmingly for four-year time limits or "sunsets" on three of the most dangerous powers. The sunset period in the final bill is seven years. This date is so far in the future that it will almost skip the next presidency, and it certainly isn't soon enough to ensure the Executive branch's continued accountability to Congress on PATRIOT's misuse. The bill renews every other power without any expiration, with only a few band-aid reforms.
Representative John Conyers described the final bill, as reported by the House/Senate conference:
The conference report represents a huge step back for civil liberties. Instead of using the sunset as an opportunity to rein in the many civil liberties abuses documented over the past four years, the Republicans have opted to expand the Patriot Act and to throw in a variety of pet bills and extraneous matters they were not able to pass otherwise.
We couldn't put it better ourselves.
You can still push for change in the bill, but time is short. We expect the House to vote tomorrow, with a Senate vote before the week is out. Please call your representative and senators now and ask them vote "no" on PATRIOT renewal.
You can visit our Action Center to find your congressperson's telephone numbers and log your call.
UPDATE: Make sure to keep checking the Deep Links front page for new developments--things are changing fast!