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Gonzales to propose changes to the Patriot Act

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  • Greg Cannon
    http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-dyn/articles/A26235-2005Apr4.html?referrer=email Patriot Act Changes to Be Proposed Gonzales Will Seek to Respond to Critics,
    Message 1 of 1 , Apr 5, 2005

      Patriot Act Changes to Be Proposed
      Gonzales Will Seek to Respond to Critics, Get Law

      By Dan Eggen
      Washington Post Staff Writer
      Tuesday, April 5, 2005; Page A21

      Attorney General Alberto R. Gonzales will propose some
      "technical modifications" to the controversial USA
      Patriot Act today in an effort to address the concerns
      of critics and ensure that the anti-terrorism
      legislation is renewed by Congress later this year,
      according to a Justice Department official.

      In an appearance before the Senate Judiciary
      Committee, Gonzales will support changes in the law
      concerning secret warrants for financial documents,
      library data and other business records, according to
      the Justice official. The changes would clearly limit
      the use of such warrants to national security
      investigations and would allow targets to mount legal
      challenges to the search, the official said.

      The proposal marks a significant shift for the Justice
      Department, which under Attorney General John D.
      Ashcroft had refused to entertain proposed changes to
      the legislation. It also marks an acknowledgment of
      the growing clout of critics of the law, who come from
      both the political left and right, and have persuaded
      scores of communities around the country to pass
      resolutions condemning the act.

      The law, approved overwhelmingly in the wake of the
      Sept. 11, 2001, attacks, dramatically increased the
      government's power to conduct clandestine searches and
      surveillance in a range of criminal cases. But about a
      dozen of its major provisions -- including the records
      provision that Gonzales has agreed to change -- are
      set to expire later this year unless Congress acts to
      renew them.

      That has laid the groundwork for a series of hearings
      in both the House and the Senate in coming weeks over
      the use of the Patriot Act in the past three years.
      The Justice Department has argued vigorously in favor
      of renewing the law, saying that the act gives
      investigators crucial tools to combat shadowy
      terrorist organizations and prevent future attacks.
      Much of the law, including aspects that allow criminal
      and intelligence investigators to better share
      information, is not in widespread dispute.

      But other parts have come under increasing attack from
      an unusual alliance of civil liberties groups and
      politicians, including some conservative organizations
      and Republican lawmakers.

      For example, even as Gonzales and FBI Director Robert
      S. Mueller III defend the law in the Senate today,
      Sens. Larry E. Craig (R-Idaho) and Richard J. Durbin
      (D-Ill.) have scheduled a news conference to introduce
      joint legislation aimed at scaling back parts of the
      law. The event will also be attended by
      representatives of Patriots to Restore Checks and
      Balances, an ad hoc alliance that includes groups such
      as the American Civil Liberties Union and the American
      Conservative Union. The group was formed last month in
      an effort to seek changes in the Patriot Act.

      Critics of the law say they hope that by pulling
      together representatives of both parties, they will be
      able to convince Republican majorities in Congress
      that parts of the law should not be renewed or should
      be changed.

      "It's extremely important for people to see that this
      is not simply a Republican or Democratic or right or
      left concern, but that it cuts across the political
      spectrum," said former congressman Bob Barr of
      Georgia, who chairs the Checks and Balances group. "I
      hope it gives members and senators more comfort and
      some cover so it's not simply that they're supporting
      the ACLU or the far right."

      In addition to the provision on business records,
      critics are likely to focus on measures that loosened
      standards for secret intelligence warrants and on a
      permanent provision that allows delayed notification
      of searches -- known by critics as "sneak-and-peek

      In the latter case, the Justice Department released
      statistics yesterday showing that investigators have
      used such warrants 155 times since October 2001.
      Justice officials argue that the number is relatively
      small given the thousands of warrants executed by law
      enforcement officials.
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