Recently, the Senate Judiciary Committee passed a Patriot Act reauthorization bill, the USA Patriot Act Extension Act of 2009, that made very minor changes to the overly broad surveillance law.
Instead of using this pivotal moment to rein in some of the worst abuses of the law, particularly in the overuse of National Security Letters (NSLs), the bill reinforces the government’s ability to snoop through our communications, private records and our homes unabated.
Because three sections of the Patriot are due to expire on December 31 of this year, Congress is obligated to act -- but, it is profoundly disappointing that the current bill does almost nothing to protect Americans’ privacy rights.
The American Civil Liberties Union has endorsed the JUSTICE Act, an alternative bill that would heavily reform not only the Patriot Act but other surveillance laws. Unfortunately, the Senate Judiciary Committee chose a weaker bill to work with. We anticipate that the Senate bill will move to final consideration in that chamber in the coming weeks.
What’s next? The House has yet to act at all. We have only two and a half months before three sections of the Patriot Act expire, and civil libertarians in the House of Representatives have yet to introduce a Patriot Act reform bill. We have been hard at work on Capitol Hill and in the halls of Congress communicating the ACLU’s vision for scaled-back and constitutional government surveillance guidelines.
Now is the time for progressive and libertarian Members of Congress to step up and introduce the JUSTICE Act, or a similarly progressive bill, and get moving on its passage to ensure that there is an alternative to the watered-down Senate bill.
Time is running out to get these bills through the legislative process - committee consideration, negotiations between the House and the Senate, final passage in both chambers, and the President’s signature.
Looking back, we’ve seen Congress cave to the will of the executive too many times to count. We must not let Congress pass the USA Patriot Act Extension Act as it stands now.
Take action! Tell your Members of Congress you want real Patriot Act reform.
American Civil Liberties Union
125 Broad Street, 18th Floor
New York, New York 10004-2400