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USA Patriot Act


  • Kavanaugh White House Counsel: PATRIOT Act, "measured, careful, responsible, and constitutional approach": On Thursday, the Senate Judiciary Committee released the first production of records for Supreme Court nominee Brett M. Kavanaugh from his time as associate counsel for George W. Bush. Roughly 5,700 pages of documents were made available to the public. The documents show that Kavanaugh assisted in the effort to pass the Patriot Act and drafted a statement that President Bush incorporated in the bill signing. Kavanaugh wrote that the PATRIOT Act will “update laws authorizing government surveillance,” which he claimed, and President Bush then restated, were from an era of “rotary phones.” In fact, the PATRIOT Act weakened numerous U.S. privacy laws, including the subscriber privacy provisions in the Cable Act and the email safeguards in the Electronic Communications Privacy Act. Both laws were enacted after the era of rotary phones. Congress amended the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act after it was revealed that the White House had authorized warrantless wiretapping of Americans beginning in 2002. In an email exchange, Kavanaugh wrote that the PATRIOT Act was a "measured, careful, responsible, and constitutional approach . . . .” EPIC recently submitted two urgent Freedom of Information Act requests for Judge Kavanaugh’s records during his time serving as Staff Secretary for President Bush. (Aug. 11, 2018)
  • Senate to Debate End of PATRIOT Act: The Senate convenes today for a rare Sunday session. Senators will consider whether to renew key provisions of the PATRIOT Act, including the NSA bulk collection program, due to expire tonight. Senator Rand Paul has said he will oppose any renewal. Also under consideration is the FREEDOM Act, sponsored by Senator Patrick Leahy (D-VT) and Senator Mike Lee (R-TX). In 2013, EPIC filed a petition in the Supreme Court, In re EPIC, supported by experts, scholars, and members of the Church Committee, arguing that the NSA program was unlawful. In 2014, EPIC and a broad coalition urged the President to end the program. The Sunday debate will be broadcast live on CSPAN2 at 4 pm EDT. (May. 31, 2015)
  • House Committee Approves Surveillance Reform Bill: The House Judiciary Committee voted to send the USA FREEDOM Act of 2015 to the House of Representatives for further consideration prior to the June 1 Patriot Act expiration deadline. The bill would end the NSA's controversial domestic telephone record collection program. The bill would also establish new transparency requirements for Intelligence Court Orders, recommended by EPIC in testimony before the House Judiciary Committee. EPIC also opposed renewal of the NSA's Section 215 orders and petitioned the Supreme Court to suspend the program. (May. 1, 2015)
  • Senator McConnell Seeks Renewal of NSA Bulk Collection Program: Senate majority leader Mitch McConnell has introduced a bill that would extend the Patriot Act until 2020. Specifically, S. 1035 would renew the controversial Section 215 authorities for the NSA's telephone record collection program. The 215 authority is set to expire on June 1. EPIC urged the President and the Attorney General not to renew the 215 order after it became clear that the NSA routinely collected the telephone records of US citizens. EPIC previously petitioned the Supreme Court to suspend the program, arguing that the NSA program exceeded the section 215 legal authority. (Apr. 23, 2015)
  • Government Responds to EPIC's Supreme Court Challenge of NSA Telephone Record Program: The Solicitor General has filed a response to EPIC's challenge to the NSA's telephone record collection program. In July, EPIC petitioned the Supreme Court to vacate the order of the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court that requires Verizon to turn over all telephone records to the NSA. EPIC argued that the Intelligence Court exceeded its legal authority and could not compel a telephone company to disclose so much personal information unrelated to a foreign intelligence investigation. Legal scholars and former Members of Congress filed briefs in support of EPIC's petition, including privacy and national security scholars, constitutional scholars, federal courts scholars, and members of the Church Committee. Congressman James Sensenbrenner, the primary author of the Patriot Act, has said that the telephone records collection program was never authorized by Section 215. For more information, see In re EPIC. (Oct. 14, 2013)
  • EPIC Calls on FCC to Investigate Unlawful Disclosure of Consumer Phone Records: In a letter to Federal Communications Commission Chairwoman Mignon Clyburn, EPIC urged the FCC to determine whether Verizon violated the Communications Act when it released consumer call detail information to the National Security Agency. In response to an unprecedented Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court order which focused on solely domestic communications, Verizon released telephone customer information to the NSA, including telephone numbers and time and call duration. Congress explicitly charged the Commission with investigating unauthorized disclosures of consumer call detail information. EPIC's letter stated that Verizon violated legal protections for consumer phone records when it disclosed consumer information in response to a facially invalid order. For more information, see EPIC: Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act, EPIC: Clapper v. Amnesty Int'l, and EPIC: USA Patriot Act. (Jun. 12, 2013)
  • Senators Push For Release of Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court Orders: A bipartisan group of senators, led by Senator Jeff Merkley (D-OR) and Senator Mike Lee (R-UT), has proposed a bill that would declassify the opinions of the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court. In 2012 testimony before the House Judiciary Committee, EPIC recommended the publication of Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court Opinions prior to the renewal of the FISA Amendments Act. Last week, EPIC charged the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court with acting outside of its authority. In a letter to Congress, EPIC stated, "The Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court ordered an American telephone company to disclose to the NSA records of wholly domestic communications. The FISC lacks the legal authority to grant this order." EPIC asked Congress to conduct hearings and determine whether the specialized court, charged with overseeing the collection of foreign intelligence, may also authorize surveillance of solely domestic communications. EPIC has also filed Freedom of Information Act request a with the Department of Justice, seeking the agency's justification for the NSA domestic surveillance program. For more information, see EPIC: Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act, EPIC: Clapper v. Amnesty, and EPIC: USA Patriot Act. (Jun. 12, 2013)
  • EPIC Seeks Legal Justification for NSA Domestic Surveillance Program: EPIC has filed a Freedom of Information Act request with the Department of Justice, seeking the agency's justification for the NSA domestic surveillance program. The Department of Justice authorized a request for "all call detail records or 'telephony metadata' created by Verizon for communications . . . (ii) wholly within the United States, including local telephone calls." By statute, the scope of the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court is limited to investigations concerning the collection of foreign intelligence. The Department of Justice and the President have been acknowledged that the Department conveyed information about the program to Congress. EPIC has asked Congress to determine whether the special court exceeded its authority when it compelled Verizon to turn over the records of millions of telephone customers. For more information, see EPIC: Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act, EPIC: Clapper v. Amnesty Int'l, and EPIC: USA Patriot Act. (Jun. 7, 2013)
  • Congress Begins Investigation of NSA Domestic Surveillance Program: Following the revelation of that the National Security Agency is monitoring domestic communications, members of Congress are initiating new oversight proceedings. The Senate Intelligence Committee will review the program's legal authority. Members of the House Judiciary Committee wrote to President Obama, saying, "We believe this type of program is far too broad and inconsistent with our nation's founding principles." During a hearing of the Senate Appropriations Committee, Sen. Mark Kirk (R-IL)asked Attorney General Eric Holder whether the NSA has spied on members of Congress. EPIC has sent a letter to leaders in Congresscalling for an investigation into the NSA's activities, and alleging that the FISC's authorization of the Verizon search was unlawful. For more information, see EPIC: Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act, EPIC: Clapper v. Amnesty Int'l, and EPIC: USA Patriot Act.
    (Jun. 7, 2013)
  • EPIC to Congress: 'NSA Domestic Surveillance Program is Unlawful': EPIC has sent a letter to Congress charging that the National Security Agency's demand for domestic telephone records is unlawful. EPIC stated, "The Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court ordered an American telephone company to disclose to the NSA records of wholly domestic communications. The FISC lacks the legal authority to grant this order." EPIC's letter calls on Congress to conduct hearings and determine whether the specialized court, charged with overseeing the collection of foreign intelligence, may also authorize surveillance of solely domestic communications. For more information, see EPIC: Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act, EPIC: Clapper v. Amnesty Int'l, and EPIC: USA Patriot Act. (Jun. 7, 2013)
  • Sweeping NSA Domestic Surveillance Order Approved Without Any Ties to Foreign Intelligence Collection: An unprecedented order from the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court indicates that the FBI and the NSA obtained vast amounts of data on Verizon customers without any ties to a foreign intelligence investigation. Last year, in testimony for the House Judiciary Committee, EPIC urged Congress not to renew the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act without first establishing appropriate oversight mechanisms. EPIC warned "there is simply too little known about the operation of the FISA today to determine whether it is effective and whether the privacy interests of Americans are adequately protected." For more information, see EPIC: Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act, EPIC: Clapper v. Amnesty Int'l, and EPIC: USA Patriot Act. (Jun. 6, 2013)
  • EPIC Obtains New Details on PATRIOT Act: As the result of a Freedom of Information Act request, EPIC has obtained more than 650 pages of documents related to the PATRIOT Act. EPIC had requested information related to the FBI's abuse of PATRIOT Act authorities and documents concerning the 2009 sunset of the PATRIOT Act. The documents disclosed by the FBI include training presentations, answers to questions from Senators Leahy and Specter, and a list of reporting requirements. In an answer to Senator Leahy, the FBI stated that while it would discontinue the use of exigent letters, which the Inspector General had previously noted as a frequent source of abuse, the agency planned to continue its use of the emergency disclosures provision of the Electronic Communications Privacy Act. For more information, see EPIC: USA PATRIOT Act. (Apr. 4, 2012)
  • Senator Leahy Pursues Bipartisan PATRIOT Act Reform: As Congress consider renewal of the PATRIOT Act, Senator Patrick Leahy (D-VT) has proposed adoption of an amendment that will establish new privacy and civil liberties safeguards. The Amendment, cosponsored with Senator Rand Paul [R-KY], would sunset National Security Letter authority authority, mandate public reporting requirements, and create other protections. A similar amendment was endorsed by a majority of the Senate Judiciary Committee earlier this year. EPIC has obtained over 1,500 pages of government documents obtained through a related Freedom of Information Act lawsuit against the Department of Justice concerning PATRIOT Act abuses. For more information, see EPIC: USA PATRIOT Act. (May. 24, 2011)
  • Congressional Leaders Strike Deal to Extend Patriot Act: Lawmakers in the House and the Senate have reached an agreement that would renew key provisions of the Patriot Act, though amendments are still possible. One of the sections, known as the "lone wolf" provision, allows terrorist investigations of non-citizens without having to show connections to a terrorist organization. The Patriot Act expanded the authority of law enforcement and intelligence agencies to monitor private communications and access personal information. Among other things, the Patriot Act amended the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act (FISA) to allow the FBI to use National Security Letters for In place of court-approved warrants. In 2010, 24,287 NSLs were issued, up 64% from the previous year. For more Information, see EPIC: USA Patriot Act and EPIC: Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act. (May. 20, 2011)
  • Senate, House Pass Limited Patriot Act Extensions: The Senate and the House each passed short-term extensions of the Patriot Act. The Senate passed a three-month extension while the House extended the provisions until Dec. 8. The extensions included the “lone wolf” provision permitting surveillance of individuals and groups not connected to identified terrorist groups, the “library law” provision granting access to “any tangible items” of individuals under surveillance, and the provision authorizing the FBI’s use of roving wiretaps. A Judiciary Committee hearing on Senator Leahy’s proposal to extend the provisions until 2013 with increased oversight is expected soon. Senator Patrick Leahy (D-VT) opposed efforts to extend the provisions that “undercut important oversight and government accountability of these intelligence gathering tools.” EPIC has in the past urged the Senate Judiciary Committee to require the Attorney General to report to Congress on potentially unlawful investigations. For related information, see EPIC: USA Patriot Act and EPIC: PATRIOT FOIA Litigation. (Feb. 16, 2011)
  • Patriot Act Extension Fails in House Vote: A House vote on extending provisions of the Patriot Act that will lapse on February 28 failed. The three provisions concerned authorizing the FBI’s use of roving wiretaps, granting the government access to “any tangible items” of individuals under surveillance, and allowing the surveillance of individuals and groups not connected to identified terrorist groups. The House bill would have extended these provisions until December. The Senate Judiciary Committee is considering a bill that would extend the expiring provisions to 2013. Senator Patrick Leahy (D-VT) issued a statement explaining that he did not support efforts to extend the provisions that “undercut important oversight and government accountability of these intelligence gathering tools.” EPIC, through the Freedom of Information Act, recently obtained from the Intelligence Oversight Board, internal reports of intelligence law violations by the FBI that do not comply with Attorney General guidelines for oversight. EPIC has in the past urged the Senate Judiciary Committee to require the Attorney General to report to Congress on potentially unlawful investigations. For related information, see EPIC: USA Patriot Act and EPIC: PATRIOT FOIA Litigation. (Feb. 9, 2011)
  • Senator Leahy Urges Attorney General to Implement Patriot Act Reforms: Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman Patrick Leahy (D-Vt.) has sent a letter to Attorney General Eric Holder regarding key privacy safeguards for the PATRIOT Act. The Senate Judiciary Committee passed the PATRIOT Act Sunset Extension Act earlier in the year, which included many reforms, but the full Senate did not act on the measure Because the administration supported the reforms within the bill, Sen. Leahy advised the Attorney General that he can voluntarily adopt many of the reforms even without Congressional action. Senator Leahy expressed particular concern about the possible misuse of National Security Letter authority. Attorney General Holder will appear before the Senate Judiciary Committee on Wednesday, April 14, 2010 for an oversight hearing. For more information, see EPIC: National Security Letters. (Apr. 14, 2010)
  • Congress Renews PATRIOT Act without Privacy Amendments: After months of debate, Congress has voted to extend the three expiring provisions of the USA PATRIOT Act for one year with no alteration. The provisions, concerning business records, roving wiretaps, and "lone wolf" investigations, give federal law enforcement agencies broad powers to gather information on Americans. Both the Senate and House Judiciary committees proposed bills to renew these provisions with reforms that would establish greater oversight, but neither bill went to a floor vote. For more information, see EPIC PATRIOT Act, EPIC PATRIOT Act Extension. (Mar. 1, 2010)
  • Inspector General Finds "Egregious Breakdown" in FBI Oversight: The Department of Justice Office of the Inspector General has issued a report on the FBI's use of "exigent letters" and other means to obtain telephone records from three unnamed phone companies. The 300-page report concludes that many of the FBI's practices "violated FBI guidelines, Department policy," and the Electronic Communications Privacy Act. The report also found that "the FBI sought and acquired reporters' telephone toll billing records and calling activity information" through improper means. The report concludes that "the FBI's initial attempts at corrective action were seriously deficient, ill-conceived, and poorly executed" and makes several recommendations for improvement. In a 2007 letter to the Senate Judiciary Committee, EPIC recommended that the FBI's National Security Letter authority be repealed. For more information, see EPIC National Security Letters. (Jan. 21, 2010)
  • House Members Introduce PATRIOT and FISA Reform Bills: Representatives Conyers, Nadler, and Scott introduced two bills today that would amend the PATRIOT Act and the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act. The Patriot Amendments Act of 2009 will enhance reporting and judicial oversight of law enforcement powers, including the National Security Letter process. The FISA Amendments Act of 2009 will place new limits on the government's ability to collect and store Americans' communications without a warrant and repeals retroactive immunity. For more information, see EPIC FISA, EPIC PATRIOT Act. (Oct. 20, 2009)
  • PATRIOT Act Revisions Introduced in Senate: Today, Sen. Russ Feingold (D-WI) and seven cosponsors introduced the Judicious Use of Surveillance Tools In Counterterrorism Efforts (JUSTICE) Act. The bill would amend the PATRIOT Act, the FISA Amendments Act, and other surveillance and intelligence laws. Among other changes, the JUSTICE Act would reform the National Security Letter process, revise the guidelines for business records orders, eliminate the catch-all provision for "sneak-and-peek" searches, and add new safeguards for FISA roving wiretaps. The JUSTICE Act would also repeal retroactive immunity for telecommunications companies, and is supported by many civil liberties organizations. For more information, see EPIC USA PATRIOT Act, EPIC FISA, EPIC Wiretapping, and EPIC National Security Letters. (Sep. 17, 2009)
  • Senators Consider PATRIOT Act Reforms: Senators Russ Feingold (D-WI) and Dick Durbin (D-IL) are drafting legislative reforms to revise the USA PATRIOT Act. The USA PATRIOT Act allows authorities to conduct surveillance without judicial review through the use of National Security Letters. The Senators asked the Attorney General and the Chairmen of the Senate Judiciary and Intelligence Committee to consider two previous bills that add protections to PATRIOT ACT. Pursuant to a EPIC lawsuit, a federal judge had ordered the Justice Department to provide for independent judicial inspection of documents relating to warrantless wiretapping. For more information, see EPIC USA PATRIOT Act, EPIC FISA, EPIC Wiretapping, and EPIC National Security Letters. (Aug. 7, 2009)
  • New Bill Introducted in the 110th Congress that would Extend Certain provisions of the USA Patriot Act. House Resolution 1467 would extend the provisions for wiretap orders, and allow the FBI to gain access to books, records and other information. (Mar. 12, 2009)
  • President Signs into Law Renewal of Patriot Law. On December 30, 2005, the Patriot Act provisions due to expire were extended with Public Law 109-160 that pushed the date from December 31, 2005 until February 3, 2006. The date of expiration was again changed from February 3, 2006 until March 10, 2006 with Public Law 109-170. (Feb. 3, 2006)
  • Court Orders FBI to Release PATRIOT Act Information. A federal judge has ordered (pdf) the FBI to publicly release or account for thousands of pages of information about the government's use of PATRIOT Act powers. EPIC filed a Freedom of Information Act request (pdf) for the documents nearly eight months ago, just as Congress announced it would hold hearings on sunsetting PATRIOT Act powers. The hearings ended in June, and Congress is expected to vote on a finalized PATRIOT renewal bill within days. According to Judge Gladys Kessler, "the record shows that [the FBI's] efforts have been unnecessarily slow and inefficient." For more information, see the EPIC PATRIOT Act FOIA Litigation Page. (Nov. 17, 2005)
  • Lawyers Call for Patriot Act Oversight. A letter (pdf) from the President of the American Bar Association to Members of Congress considering Patriot Act renewal states that the ABA is "concerned that there is inadequate Congressional oversight of government investigations undertaken pursuant to the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act to ensure that such investigations do not violate the First, Fourth, and Fifth Amendments to the Constitution." See ABA Resolution on FISA and EPIC's FISA page for more information. (Nov. 10, 2005)
  • EPIC FOIA Documents Show Possible Patriot Act Abuses. Documents (pdf, 3.1 mb) obtained by EPIC under the Freedom of Information Act describe thirteen cases of possible FBI misconduct in intelligence investigations. The documents were released by the Bureau in response to an EPIC open government request (pdf) for information about the FBI's use of provisions of the PATRIOT Act. EPIC has written a letter (pdf) to the Senate Judiciary Committee highlighting the need for the Attorney General to report to Congress on potentially unlawful intelligence investigations. For more information, see EPIC's PATRIOT FOIA Litigation page. (Oct. 24, 2005)
  • Senate Committee Fails to Approve Expanded FBI Authority. In a closed meeting yesterday, the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence did not reach consensus on legislation that would reauthorize sunsetting provisions of the USA PATRIOT Act and increase the FBI's investigative powers. EPIC had urged the committee in a statement to carefully consider each sunsetting provision of the USA PATRIOT Act before voting to reauthorize, and not to expand the FBI's investigative powers unless the agency can show a need for more authority. EPIC also joined more than twenty organizations opposing an expansion of FBI authority to allow the law enforcement agency to demand records in national security investigations with no judicial approval. For more information, see EPIC's USA PATRIOT Act page. (May 27, 2005)


The clumsily-titled Uniting and Strengthening America by Providing Appropriate Tools Required to Intercept and Obstruct Terrorism Act of 2001 (USA PATRIOT Act, or USAPA) introduced a plethora of legislative changes which significantly increased the surveillance and investigative powers of law enforcement agencies in the United States. The Act did not, however, provide for the system of checks and balances that traditionally safeguards civil liberties in the face of such legislation.

Legislative proposals in response to the terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001 were introduced less than a week after the attacks. President Bush signed the final bill, the USA PATRIOT Act, into law on October 26, 2001. Though the Act made significant amendments to over 15 important statutes, it was introduced with great haste and passed with little debate, and without a House, Senate, or conference report. As a result, it lacks background legislative history that often retrospectively provides necessary statutory interpretation.

The Act was a compromise version of the Anti-Terrorism Act of 2001 (ATA), a far-reaching legislative package intended to strengthen the nation's defense against terrorism. The ATA contained several provisions vastly expanding the authority of law enforcement and intelligence agencies to monitor private communications and access personal information. The final legislation included a few beneficial additions from the Administration's initial proposal: most notably, a so-called sunset provision (which provides that several sections of the act automatically expire after a certain period of time, unless they are explicitly renewed by Congress) on some of the electronic surveillance provisions, and an amendment providing judicial oversight of law enforcement's use of the FBI's Carnivore system.

However, the USA PATRIOT Act retains provisions appreciably expanding government investigative authority, especially with respect to the Internet. Those provisions address issues that are complex and implicate fundamental constitutional protections of individual liberty, including the appropriate procedures for interception of information transmitted over the Internet and other rapidly evolving technologies.


One of the most striking features of the USA PATRIOT Act is the lack of debate surrounding its introduction. Many of the provisions of the Act relating to electronic surveillance were proposed before September 11th, and were subject to much criticism and debate. John Podesta, White House Chief of Staff from 1998 - 2001, has questioned what has changed since then.

The events of September 11 convinced ... overwhelming majorities in Congress that law enforcement and national security officials need new legal tools to fight terrorism. But we should not forget what gave rise to the original opposition - many aspects of the bill increase the opportunity for law enforcement and the intelligence community to return to an era where they monitored and sometimes harassed individuals who were merely exercising their First Amendment rights. Nothing that occurred on September 11 mandates that we return to such an era.

- John Podesta, USA Patriot Act - The Good, the Bad, and the Sunset (Winter, 2002)

When the legislative proposals were introduced by the Bush administration in the aftermath of September 11th, Attorney General John Ashcroft gave Congress one week in which to pass the bill -- without changes. Vermont Democrat Patrick Leahy, chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee, managed to convince the Justice Department to agree to some changes, and members of the House began to make significant improvements. However, the Attorney General warned that further terrorist acts were imminent, and that Congress could be to blame for such attacks if it failed to pass the bill immediately.

Extensive and hurried negotiation in the Senate resulted in a bipartisan bill, stripped of many of the concessions won by Sen. Leahy. Senator Thomas Daschle, the majority leader, sought unanimous consent to pass the proposal without debate or amendment; Senator Russ Feingold was the only member to object.

Minor changes were made in the House, which passed the bill 357 to 66. The Senate and House versions were quickly reconciled, and the Act was signed into law on October 26, 2001.


The USA PATRIOT Act introduced sweeping changes to U.S. law, including amendments to:

Russ Feingold, the only Senator to oppose the Act, was particularly concerned with the effects the Act might have on the civil liberties of immigrants. Feingold expressed his concern and certainty that the enhanced authority to profile and engage in electronic surveillance would be disproportionately wielded:

Now here is where my caution in the aftermath of the terrorist attacks and my concerns over the reach of the anti-terrorism bill come together. To the extent that the expansive new immigration powers that the bill grants to the Attorney General are subject to abuse, who do we think that is most likely to bear the brunt of the abuse? It won't be immigrants from Ireland. It won't be immigrants from El Salvador or Nicaragua. It won't even be immigrants from Haiti or Africa. It will be immigrants from Arab, Muslim and South Asian countries. In the wake of these terrible events out government has been given vast new powers and they may fall most heavily on a minority of our population who already feel particularly acutely the pain of this disaster.

- Senator Russ Feingold, Statement on the Anti-Terrorism Bill (Oct. 25, 2002)

The implications for online privacy are considerable. For example, the Act increases the ability of law enforcement agencies to authorize installation of pen registers and trap and trace devices (a pen register collects the outgoing phone numbers placed from a specific telephone line; a trap and trace device captures the incoming numbers placed to a specific phone line -- a caller-id box is a trap and trace device), and to authorize the installation of such devices to record all computer routing, addressing, and signaling information. The Act also extends the government's ability to gain access to personal financial information and student information without any suspicion of wrongdoing, simply by certifying that the information likely to be obtained is relevant to an ongoing criminal investigation.

Surveillance and Privacy Laws Affected

The USA PATRIOT Act significantly expanded law enforcement authority to surveill and capture communications. There are three major laws that create the framework for the government interception of communications:

  • Title III: Requires probable cause, a high legal standard to meet, from a judge for real-time interception of the content of voice and data communications. See EPIC's Wiretapping Page.
  • Electronic Communications Privacy Act (ECPA): Governs government access to stored email and other electronic communications. Within ECPA, the Pen Register statute governs real time interception of "numbers dialed or otherwise transmitted on the telephone line to which such device is attached." Although the use of such devices requires a court order, it does not require probable cause: there is no judicial discretion, and the court must authorize the surveillance upon government certification. A government attorney need only certify to the court that the "information likely to be obtained by such installation and use is relevant to an ongoing criminal investigation." Therefore, the Pen Register and Trap and Trace statute lacks many of the privacy protections found in the wiretap statute.
  • Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act (FISA): Authorizes the government to carry out electronic surveillance -- against any person, even Americans -- in the United States upon obtaining a judicial order based upon probable cause that the target is a foreign power or an agent of a foreign power. FISA, which applies primarily to the government's power in foreign intelligence and counter-intelligence cases, therefore does not offer many of the protections required under the federal wiretap statute. See EPIC's FISA Page.

Title III governs the "contents" of communications, defined as "any information concerning the substance, purport, or meaning of that communication." The Supreme Court has held that the contents of a communication are entitled to full Fourth Amendment protection. Therefore, the government's access to "content" information is limited by constitutionally imposed search and seizure requirements. In order to abide by these constitutional restrictions, Title III imposes strict limitations upon the government's ability to obtain communication content:

  • a law enforcement agency may intercept content only pursuant to a court order issued upon findings of probable cause to believe that
    1. an individual is committing one of a list of specifically enumerated crimes,
    2. communications concerning the specified offense will be intercepted, and
    3. "the pertinent facilities are commonly used by the alleged offender or are being used in connection with the offense."
  • Only designated officials can authorize such interception,
  • The interception is authorized for a limited time period.
  • Interception is subject to a statutory exclusionary rule: any information intercepted in violation of the wiretap statute cannot be admitted into evidence in any judicial or administrative proceeding.

Conversely, the Supreme Court has held that there is no constitutionally recognized privacy interest in the telephone numbers intercepted by a pen register or trap and trace device. In U.S. v. New York Telephone Co., 434 U.S. 159 (1977), the Supreme Court emphasized the limited information captured by pen register devices: "neither the purport of any communication between the caller and the recipient of the call, their identities, nor whether the call was even completed is disclosed by pen registers." This is reflected in the ease with which law enforcement officers are able to obtain trap and trace/pen register installation: upon the certification by an attorney that pen register information is likely to be relevant, the judge must approve the installation of the device.

Analysis of Specific USA PATRIOT Act Provisions

Pen Registers, the Internet and Carnivore

Prior to the passage of the USA PATRIOT Act, the statute authorizing the use of "pen register" and "trap and trace" devices governed real time interception of "numbers dialed or otherwise transmitted on the telephone line to which such device is attached." Although the use of such devices requires a court order, it does not require a showing of probable cause. There is, in effect, no judicial discretion, as the court is required to authorize monitoring upon the mere certification by a government attorney that the "information likely to be obtained by such installation and use is relevant to an ongoing criminal investigation." Therefore, such procedures lack almost all of the significant privacy protections found in Title III, the statute governing the interception of the actual "content" of a communication (e.g., a phone conversation or the text of an e-mail message).

Section 216 of the Act significantly expanded law enforcement authority to use trap and trace and pen register devices. Prior law relating to the use of such devices was written to apply to the telephone industry, therefore the language of the statute referred only to the collection of "numbers dialed" on a "telephone line" and the "originating number" of a telephone call. The new legislation redefined a pen register as "a device or process which records or decodes dialing, routing, addressing, or signaling information transmitted by an instrument or facility from which a wire or electronic communication is transmitted." A trap and trace device is now "a device or process which captures the incoming electronic or other impulses which identify the originating number or other dialing, routing, addressing, and signaling information reasonably likely to identify the source or a wire or electronic communication."

By expanding the nature of the information that can be captured, the new law clearly expanded pen register capacities to the Internet, covering electronic mail, Web surfing, and all other forms of electronic communications. The full impact of this expansion of coverage is difficult to assess, as the statutory definitions are vague with respect to the types of information that can be captured and are subject to broad interpretations. The fact that the provision prohibits the capture of "content" does not adequately take into account the unique nature of information captured electronically, which contains data far more revealing than phone numbers, such as URLs generated while using the Web (which often contain a great deal of information that cannot in any way be analogized to a telephone number). Although the FBI, prior to the enactment of the USA PATRIOT Act, compared telephone calls to Internet communications to justify invocation of the existing pen register statute to authorize the use of its controversial Carnivore system, whether the law as then written in fact granted such authority remained an open and debatable question. The amendment made by Section 216 codified the FBI's questionable interpretation of the pen register statute, thereby closing the door to fully informed and deliberate consideration of this complex issue.

When the FBI's use of Carnivore was first revealed in July 2000, there was a great deal of concern expressed by members of Congress, who stated their intent to examine the issues and draft appropriate legislation. To facilitate that process, former Attorney General Reno announced that issues surrounding Carnivore would be considered by a Justice Department review panel and that its recommendations would be made public. That promised report had not been released when Ms. Reno left office, and Attorney General Ashcroft announced that a high-level Department official would complete the review process. That review, however, was not completed prior to September 11, 2001. As a result of the delay, Congress did not have the benefit of the promised findings and recommendations when it enacted the USA PATRIOT Act. Because Carnivore provides the FBI with access to the communications of all subscribers of a monitored Internet Service Provider (and not just those of the court-designated target), it raises substantial privacy issues for millions of law-abiding American citizens.

The USA PATRIOT does contain a provision requiring law enforcement to file under seal with the court a record of installations of pen register/trap and trace devices. This amendment may provide some measure of judicial oversight of the use of this enhanced surveillance authority.

Addition of Terrorism and Computer Crimes as Predicate Offenses Permitting Interception of Communications Under the Wiretap Act

Section 201 added crimes of terrorism or production/dissemination of chemical weapons as predicate offenses under Title III, suspicion of which enable the government to obtain a wiretap of a party's communications. Because the government already had substantial authority under FISA to obtain a wiretap of a suspected terrorist, the real effect of this amendment is to permit wiretapping of a United States person suspected of domestic terrorism.

Section 202 added "a felony violation of section 1030 (relating to computer fraud and abuse)" as a crime providing the predicate for a Title III wiretap application. Felony offenses under Section 1030 are: intentional, unauthorized access to a protected government computer to obtain and communicate classified information for clandestine foreign "with reason to believe that such information so obtained could be used to the injury of the United States or to the advantage of any foreign nation"; access to a protected computer causing more than $5000 damage; access to a protected computer with the intent to extort; or any second offense.

Neither Section 201 nor Section 202 changes the definition of communications subject to intercept, or the standard that the government must reach in order to obtain an intercept.

Expanded Dissemination of Information Obtained in Criminal Investigations

Section 203 amended the Federal Rules of Criminal Procedure to permit disclosures of "matters occurring before the grand jury" when the matters "involve foreign intelligence or counterintelligence" to "any Federal law enforcement, intelligence, protective, immigration, national defense, or national security official in order to assist the official receiving that information in the performance of his official duties." Rule 6(e)(3)(c) governs the permissive disclosure and use of information revealed in a grand jury proceeding, which prior to the enactment of the USA PATRIOT Act could be disclosed only when directed by a court in connection with a judicial proceeding; when permitted by a court upon the request of the defendant or upon a showing that the information discloses a violation of a state criminal law; or when disclosed by the prosecutor to another grand jury. The new law requires that a disclosure made under the new exception be revealed, under seal, to the court. The term "foreign intelligence information" is defined as information that "relates to the ability of the United States to protect against" an actual or potential attack, hostile act, sabotage, international terrorism, or clandestine intelligence activities conducted by a foreign power or its agent, as well as information relating to the national defense, security, or conduct of foreign affairs of the United States.

Section 203 also amended 18 U.S.C. 2517, which governs the permissive disclosure and use of intercepted communications. Under the new law, intercepted information related to "foreign intelligence or counterintelligence" can be disclosed to "any Federal law enforcement, intelligence, protective, immigration, national defense, or national security official" to the extent that "such disclosure is appropriate to the proper performance of the official duties of the officer making or receiving the disclosure," and the information can be used by any officer properly in possession of the information to assist "in the performance of his official duties."

Section 203, as codified, was an improvement from the equivalent amendment initially proposed by the Administration in the ATA. The ATA would have permitted broad disclosure of sensitive information gathered by law enforcement agencies with any employee of the executive branch, including the intercepts of telephone conversations, without any safeguards regarding the future use or dissemination of such information. The USA PATRIOT Act amendments limit the use of the information to a proper investigation (subject to legal sanctions as defined by Section 223 upon misuse or misdisclosure of the information). However, while such sharing may be appropriate in the case of international terrorism investigations, the limitation permitting sharing only of "foreign intelligence information" is insufficient to limit disclosure to information relating to investigations of terrorist activities.

Interception of "Computer Trespasser" Communications

Prior law prohibited anyone from intentionally intercepting or disclosing the contents of any intercepted communications without complying with the requirements of the wiretap statute, unless such interception and disclosure fell within one of several statutory exceptions. The USA PATRIOT Act, Section 217, creates a new exception, permitting government interception of the "communications of a computer trespasser" if the owner or operator of a "protected computer" authorizes the interception. The new exception has broad implications, given that a "protected computer" includes any "which is used in interstate or foreign commerce or communication" (which, with the Internet, includes effectively any computer). The "authorization" assistance permits wiretapping of the intruder's communications without any judicial oversight, in contrast to most federal communication-intercept laws that require objective oversight from someone outside the investigative chain.

The new law places the determination solely in the hands of law enforcement and the system owner or operator. In those likely instances in which the interception does not result in prosecution, the target of the interception will never have an opportunity to challenge the activity (through a suppression proceeding). Indeed, such targets would never even have notice of the fact that their communications were subject to warrantless interception. However, the USA PATRIOT Act does include an exception prohibiting surveillance of someone who is known by the owner of the protected computer "to have an existing contractual relationship with the owner or operator of the protected computer for access to all or part of the protected computer." The ATA, which did not contain such an exception, was so vague that the provision could have been applied to users downloading copyrighted materials off the Web. However, even with this fix, the amendment has little, if anything, to do with legitimate investigations of terrorism.

New Treatment of Voice-Mail Messages

Section 204 amended Title III and the Stored Communications Access Act so that stored voice-mail communications, like e-mail, may be obtained by the government through a search warrant rather than through more stringent wiretap orders. Section 204 also brings voice mail under the authority of Section 209, which permits nationwide search warrants. Messages stored on an answering machine tape remain outside the scope of either statute.

Application of Cable Companies to Electronic Surveillance

Section 211 amended Title III to provide that where a cable company provides telephone or Internet services, it must comply with the laws governing interception and disclosure of communications by other telephone companies or ISPs. This subjects cable companies acting in this capacity to 18 U.S.C. chapters 119 (Title III), 121, and 206, laws governing the interception and disclosure of real time wire, oral or electronic communications, pen register/trap and trace information, and stored communications. The new law supercedes the original provisions of the Cable Act relating to obligatory and voluntary disclosure of subscriber information, although the amendment would provide an exemption for "customer cable television viewing activity" (an undefined term, but one meant to address what channels are watched by the customer). However, the stringent privacy protections prohibiting release of customer information to non-governmental entities absent customer consent are left in place.

Nationwide Application of Surveillance Orders and Search Warrants

Prior to the passage of the USA PATRIOT Act, the laws relating to both wiretaps and pen register/trap and trace devices authorized execution of a court order only within the geographic jurisdiction of the issuing court. The Act (sections 216 and 219) expands the jurisdictional authority of a court to authorize the installation of a surveillance device anywhere in the United States. The availability of nationwide orders for the interception and collection of electronic evidence would remove an important legal safeguard by making it more difficult for a distant service provider to appear before the issuing court and object to legal or procedural defects. Indeed, it has become increasingly common for service providers to seek clarification from issuing courts when, in the face of rapidly evolving technological changes, many issues involving the privacy rights of their subscribers require careful judicial consideration. The burden would be particularly acute for smaller providers -- precisely those, for instance, who are most likely (according to the FBI) to be served with orders requiring the installation of the Carnivore system.

Section 219 amends the Federal Rules of Criminal Procedure to expand the jurisdictional authority of a court to authorize search warrants outside of the judicial district in an investigation of domestic or international terrorism. Although permitting nationwide application of search warrants creates the same problem as expanding the scope of surveillance orders -- making it harder for those served by such warrants to object to legal or procedural defects -- this provision, because it applies only to investigations of domestic or international terrorism, was more narrowly tailored to apply only to the anti-terrorism investigations.

Authority to Conduct Secret Searches ("Sneak and Peek")

Section 213 eliminates the prior requirement that law enforcement provide a person subject to a search warrant with contemporaneous notice of the search. The new "secret search" provision applies where the court "finds reasonable cause to believe that providing immediate notification of the execution of the warrant may have an adverse effect." Although the Administration's "Field Guidance on New Authorities Enacted in the 2001 Anti-Terrorism Legislation" states that the new authority "is primarily designed to authorize delayed notice of searches," the amendment permits seizure of any tangible property or communications where the court finds "reasonable necessity" for this seizure. The law requires that notice be given within a "reasonable period," which can be extended by the court for "good cause." "Reasonable period" is undefined, and the Administration's Field Guidance advises that this is a "flexible standard."

This significant change in the law applies to all government searches for material that "constitutes evidence of a criminal offense in violation of the laws of the United States" and is not limited to investigations of terrorist activity. Prior law authorized delayed notification of a search only under a very small number of circumstances (such as surreptitious electronic surveillance). The expansion of this extraordinary authority to all searches constitutes a radical departure from Fourth Amendment standards and could result in routine surreptitious entries by law enforcement agents.

Expanded Scope of Subpoenas for Records of Electronic Communications

Under prior law, law enforcement could use a subpoena to obtain "the name, address, local and long distance telephone toll billing records, telephone number or other subscriber number or identity, and length of service or a subscriber to or customer of such service and the type of services the subscriber or customer utilized" from an internet service provider. Section 210 expands the type of information that a provider must disclose to law enforcement to include, among other things, records of session times and duration; any temporarily assigned network address; and any means or source of payment. This heightened authority to use subpoenas (rather than court orders) for a broader (and more revealing) class of information is not be limited to investigations of suspected terrorist activity.

Lowered Standard for Foreign Intelligence Surveillance

Section 218 expands the application of FISA to those situations where foreign intelligence gathering is merely "a significant" purpose of the investigation, rather than, as prior FISA law provided, the sole or primary purpose. "Significant" is not defined, and this vagueness could lead to inconsistent determinations and potential overuse of the FISA standards. The more lenient standards that the government must meet under FISA (as opposed to the stringent requirements of Title III) are justified by the fact that FISA's provisions facilitate the collection of foreign intelligence information, not criminal evidence. This traditional justification is eliminated where the lax FISA provisions are applicable, at least in part, to the interception of information relating to a domestic criminal investigation. The change seriously alters the delicate constitutional balance reflected in the prior legal regime governing electronic surveillance.

Multi-Point ("Roving Wiretap") Authority

Section 206 expands FISA to permit "roving wiretap" authority, which allows the interception of any communications made to or by an intelligence target without specifying the particular telephone line, computer or other facility to be monitored. Prior law required third parties (such as common carriers and others) "specified in court-ordered surveillance" to provide assistance necessary to accomplish the surveillance. The amendment extends that obligation to unnamed and unspecified third parties.

Such "generic" orders could have a significant impact on the privacy rights of large numbers of innocent users, particularly those who access the Internet through public facilities such as libraries, university computer labs and cybercafes. Upon the suspicion that an intelligence target might use such a facility, the FBI can now monitor all communications transmitted at the facility. The problem is exacerbated by the fact that the recipient of the assistance order (for instance, a library) would be prohibited from disclosing the fact that monitoring is occurring.

The "generic" roving wiretap orders raise significant constitutional issues, as they do not comport with the Fourth Amendment's requirement that any search warrant "particularly describe the place to be searched." That deficiency becomes even more significant where the private communications of law-abiding American citizens might be intercepted incidentally.

Liberalized Use of Pen Register/Trap and Trace Devices under FISA

Section 214 removes the pre-existing statutory requirement that the government prove the surveillance target is "an agent of a foreign power" before obtaining a pen register/trap and trace order under the FISA. Therefore, the government could obtain a pen register/trap and trace device "for any investigation to gather foreign intelligence information," without a showing that the device has, is or will be used by a foreign agent or by an individual engaged in international terrorism or clandestine intelligence activities. The amendment significantly eviscerates the constitutional rationale for the relatively lax requirements that apply to foreign intelligence surveillance. That laxity is premised on the assumption that the Executive Branch, in pursuit of its national security responsibilities to monitor the activities of foreign powers and their agents, should not be unduly restrained by Congress and the courts. The removal of the "foreign power" predicate for pen register/trap and trace surveillance upsets that delicate balance.

However, The USA PATRIOT Act includes a provision prohibiting use of FISA pen register surveillance under any circumstances against a United States citizen where the investigation is conducted "solely on the basis of activities protected by the First Amendment." This exemption was not contained within the ATA, and limits to some extent the potential overreach of this expanded authority.

Access to "Any Tangible Things"

Section 215 grants the FBI the authority to request an order "requiring the production of any tangible things (including books, records, papers, documents, and other items)" relevant to an investigation of international terrorism or clandestine intelligence activities. Although the amendment is entitled "Access to Certain Business Records for Foreign Intelligence and International Terrorism Investigations," the scope of the authority is far broader and applies to any records relevant to the individual. This amendment, which overrides state library confidentiality laws, permits the FBI to compel production of business records, medical records, educational records and library records without a showing of "probable cause" (the existence of specific facts to support the belief that a crime has been committed or that the items sought are evidence of a crime). Instead, the government only needs to claim that the records may be related to an ongoing investigation related to terrorism or intelligence activities. Individuals served with a search warrant issued under FISA rules may not disclose, under penalty of law, the existance of the warrant or the facts that records were provided to the government. The final version of this provision contains an important clause -- which was not in the Administration's original bill -- restricting the potential misuse of the law. Although the USA PATRIOT Act deleted the requirement that any records requested pertain to an agent of a foreign power (or a foreign power), the Act prohibits investigation of a United States person solely on the basis of activities protected by the First Amendment. A second change from the ATA was the infusion of judicial involvement into the process. The ATA's proposed amendment would have allowed access to such records under a subpoena issued by investigators. The USA PATRIOT Act retains the requirement of pre-existing law, permitting access to records only upon court order.

Sunset Provision

The USA PATRIOT Act contains a sunset provision, terminating several of the amendments enhancing electronic surveillance authority on December 31, 2005. Because the law gives government much increased surveillance capability, a sunset is crucial to determine how well the tools work, how effective they havebeen, and how responsibly they have been applied. Of the provisions outlined above, the sunset provision does not apply to the expansion of pen register/trap and trace authority to the Internet; authority to share grand jury information; expansion of law enforcement authority over cable providers; expanded scope of subpoenas for electronic evidence; authority for delaying notice of the execution of a warrant; and expansion of jurisdictional authority of search warrants for terrorism investigations.

Additional Amendments Providing Government the Authority to Combat Terrorism

Section 205 of the Act provides for increased employment of translators by the FBI and designated five more judges to sit on the FISA Court (raising the number from seven to eleven seats on the court). These provisions are intended to increase the human intelligence capacities of the FBI and to provide additional judicial oversight of the enhanced FISA authority. Both amendments are commendable in their efforts to aid the government in preventing terrorist acts while maintaining a system checking intrusion onto citizens' civil liberties. In addition, Section 223 provides civil liability for unauthorized disclosure of information obtained through surveillance, which serves to limit misuse of communications captured through lawful surveillance.

Amendments to Immigration Laws

The Act contains significant amendments to immigration and other laws. These sections are not discussed here. For further information on such provisions, see:

  • The ACLU's analysis of the immigration provisions
  • The Lawyers Committee for Human Rights, analysis of the USA PATRIOT Act Immigration Provisions (Oct. 26, 2001)


News Articles

USA PATRIOT Act Resources

    PATRIOT Act Renewal Bill Would Expand FBI Powers . Reuters reports that Senate Intelligence Committee Chairman Pat Roberts (R-KS) plans to introduce legislation that would not only reauthorize sunsetting provisions of the USA PATRIOT Act, but also expand the government's investigative powers to permit the FBI to demand health, library, and tax records in intelligence investigations without judicial approval. Today the committee had planned to hold a closed sesseion to vote on whether to send the legislation to the Senate floor. The session was cancelled, but is expected to be held next week. For more information, see EPIC's USA PATRIOT Act page. (May 19, 2005)
  • EPIC Sues For Data on Use of USA PATRIOT Act Powers. In a complaint (pdf) filed this week, EPIC asked a federal court to force the FBI to disclose information about its use of expanded investigative authority granted by sunsetting provisions of the USA PATRIOT Act. The agency agreed (pdf) to quickly process EPIC's Freedom of Information Act request (pdf) for the data, but has not complied with the timeline for even a standard FOIA request. The lawsuit comes amid numerous congressional hearings reviewing controversial sections of the USA PATRIOT Act. Many of these provisions are slated to expire at the end of the year unless the administration makes the case for renewal. For more information, see EPIC's USA PATRIOT FOIA page. (April 29, 2005)
  • House, Senate Hold USA PATRIOT Act Oversight Hearings. Beginning this week, Congress will hold numerous hearings to review controversial sections of the USA PATRIOT Act that gave the government greater investigative powers. Many of these provisions are slated to expire at the end of the year unless the administration makes the case for renewal. Last month, EPIC submitted a FOIA request (pdf) to the FBI asking how the agency has used expanded investigative powers under sunsetting provisions of the USA PATRIOT Act. (April 6, 2005)
  • Report: USA PATRIOT Act Threatens Canadians' Privacy. British Columbia's Information and Privacy Commissioner has released a report (pdf) finding that the USA PATRIOT Act violates British Columbian privacy laws, and that personal information about Canadians may be accessible to the U.S. government under the Act. The report concludes that changes to privacy law and other measures are necessary to protect British Columbians' personal information against seizure under the controversial American law. (Nov. 1, 2004)
  • EPIC Urges Appeals Court to Reverse Ruling on USA PATRIOT Records. EPIC has filed a brief (pdf) asking a federal appellate court to reverse a lower court's refusal (pdf) to expedite the processing of a Freedom of Information Act request (pdf) seeking information about efforts of federal prosecutors to oppose legislative revisions to the controversial USA PATRIOT Act. EPIC argues that it is entitled to expedited processing because there was, at the time of the request, an urgency to inform the public about the matter. EPIC also argues that the prosecutors' activities were a matter of widespread and exceptional media interest and raised questions about the government's integrity. For more information about the case, see the EPIC v. DOJ Page. (July 13, 2004)
  • EPIC Obtains Information on USA PATRIOT Act Surveillance Authority. EPIC has received two sets of documents revealing that the scope of the FBI's powers under Section 215 of the USA PATRIOT Act is broader than what government officials have publicly acknowledged. Among other things, the documents show that the controversial provision can be used to collect information about innocent people and state that Section 215 may authorize law enforcement to obtain an individual's apartment keys. The documents are available at EPIC's PATRIOT Act FOIA Litigation page. (June 24, 2004)
  • 2003 Surveillance Report: Secret Warrants Surpass Standard Warrants. The 2003 Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act Annual Report (pdf) reveals that the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court granted 1724 applications for secret surveillance last year, more than in any previous year. The report shows that 2003 was the first year ever that more secret surveillance warrants were granted than federal wiretap warrants, which are issued only under a more stringent legal standard. The PATRIOT Act significantly expanded the government's authority to make use of secret surveillance, including in circumstances where part of the investigation is unrelated to an intelligence investigation. The report also reveals that a small number of applications for secret surveillance were denied in 2003 for the first time ever. For more information, see EPIC's FISA Page. (May 7, 2004)
  • Petition Drive Launched to Protect Reader Privacy. The Campaign for Reader Privacy has been launched by booksellers, authors and librarians. The campaign, which urges concerned citizens to sign a petition to Congress, seeks to amend Section 215 of the PATRIOT Act to "restore the privacy of our bookstore and library records." (April 1, 2004)
  • New York City Passes Resolution Against USA PATRIOT Act. The New York City Council has passed a resolution against the USA PATRIOT Act, criticizing the law's infringement on privacy rights. New York City, target of the 9/11 terrorist attacks, is the 247th community in the United States to approve a measure condemning the law. (Feb. 5, 2004)
  • Ashcroft Asks Senate to Leave USA PATRIOT As Is. Attorney General John Ashcroft has sent a letter to members of the Senate urging them not to revoke controversial law enforcement surveillance powers granted by the USA PATRIOT Act. The letter refers specifically to the Security and Freedom Ensured Act (SAFE Act), a bipartisan bill currently in the Senate that would limit the USA PATRIOT Act's surveillance and search powers. (Jan. 29, 2004)
  • Judge Strikes Down Part of USA PATRIOT Act. A federal judge has ruled that a provision of the USA PATRIOT Act that prohibits providing "expert advice or assistance" to designated international terrorist organizations violates the First and Fifth Amendments because it is overly vague. This is the first court decision striking down a provision of the controversial law. (Jan. 27, 2004)
  • Bush Calls for Renewal of USA PATRIOT Act. In his annual State of the Union address, President Bush urged Congress to renew key provisions of the USA PATRIOT Act scheduled to sunset in December 2005. Two of the more controversial provisions of the Act set to expire next year allow the government to seize library patron's records without giving notice and conduct Internet surveillance without a warrant. (Jan. 21, 2004)
  • Congress Approves Expansion of FBI Powers. Congress has added a provision to the Intelligence Authorization Act for Fiscal Year 2004 that grants the FBI greater authority to seize records in terrorism investigations. The provision permits the FBI to obtain records without judicial approval from car dealers, pawnbrokers, travel agents, casinos, and other businesses. (Nov. 19, 2003)
  • EPIC Seeks Release of DOJ Patriot Lobbying Info. In court papers (pdf) filed this week, EPIC is seeking the expedited release of Justice Department records concerning the lobbying efforts of federal prosecutors to oppose revisions to the controversial USA PATRIOT Act. Despite widespread media coverage of the lobbying campaign, and questions as to its legality, DOJ has refused to expedite EPIC's disclosure request. (Oct. 15, 2003)
  • SAFE Act Introduced in Senate. A bipartisan bill that would significantly limit a number of controversial provisions of the USA PATRIOT Act has been introduced in the Senate. Read the text of the Security and Freedom Ensured Act (SAFE Act) and follow its progress here. (Oct. 2, 2003)
  • Ashcroft Tours Country to Defend USA PATRIOT Act. Attorney General John Ashcroft has concluded a cross-country tour to defend the legitimacy of the USA PATRIOT Act and other anti-terrorism measures. Read the speech he delivered in Washington, D.C. on August 19 and his September 9 address in New York. (Sept. 15, 2003)
  • Justice Department Urges Prosecutors to Lobby Congress. The Washington Post has reported that the Director of the Executive Office of U.S. Attorneys has issued a memorandum to federal prosecutors asking them to contact members of Congress who voted to deny funding for "sneak and peek" warrants, which are authorized by the USA PATRIOT Act. (Aug. 22, 2003)
  • EPIC/ACLU Challenge PATRIOT Act Secrecy. In a legal memorandum (pdf) filed with the federal court in Washington, EPIC and the American Civil Liberties Union challenge the Justice Department's refusal to disclose basic, statistical information concerning implementation of the controversial USA PATRIOT Act. For background information and copies of DOJ and FBI documents that have been obtained, see EPIC's PATRIOT Act FOIA Litigation page. (Mar. 24, 2003)
  • EPIC Files Lawsuit Seeking PATRIOT Act Info. EPIC, joined by the ACLU and library and booksellers' organizations, has filed suit under the Freedom of Information Act seeking the disclosure of information concerning implementation of the controversial USA PATRIOT Act. The lawsuit covers some of the information the Justice Department recently withheld from the House Judiciary Committee. See the PATRIOT Act FOIA Litigation page for details and links to relevant documents. (Oct. 24, 2002)
  • DOJ Releases PATRIOT Act Info, Withholds Some Data. The House Judiciary Committee has released the Justice Department's response [PDF, 3.4MB) to the committee's June 13 letter seeking information about implementation of the USA PATRIOT Act. The response sheds some light on the use of the new law, but DOJ has classified a large amount of important information required for proper public oversight. EPIC and the ACLU are seeking this information through the Freedom of Information Act. (Oct. 18, 2002)
  • Free Speech Groups Cite Post-9/11 Info Restrictions. EPIC has joined with other free expression and open government advocates in a statement marking the six-month anniversary of Congress' passage of the USA PATRIOT Act. The groups detail the legislation's chilling effect on speech and other government efforts to restrict public access to information. The statement was released by the Free Expression Network at a Capitol Hill press conference that featured Sen. Russel Feingold and Rep. Patsy Mink, both vocal critics of the legislation. (Apr. 25, 2002)

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