November 8, 2005
Call Congress About the Patriot Act! Important Motion!
As Congress prepares to reauthorize the USA PATRIOT Act within the next ten days, the breakthrough we've been waiting for arrived on Sunday via the Washington Post. We must take advantage of this opportunity to show Congress a grassroots swell of outrage at the way our government has used the USA PATRIOT Act to spy on ordinary people. This is a critical time to activate phone trees to call Congress. Calls are needed today and tomorrow morning to support a House motion to instruct (see below). We will send another alert later this week to report on that vote and to suggest next steps.
Evidence of FBI Abuse of National Security Letters Power
On Sunday, the Washington Post ran a front-page article that confirmed the fears and suspicions of many Americans: The FBI is using powers granted in the USA PATRIOT Act to investigate the personal records of thousands of ordinary Americans without ever establishing a link to terrorism.
The "National Security Letters" that the FBI is using to acquire these records are not subject to judicial review and, because of changes made by the USA PATRIOT Act (Section 505), the use of NSLs is not limited to suspected terrorists.
The Post article exposed that, since the PATRIOT Act changes, the FBI has been issuing "more than 30,000 national security letters a year... a hundredfold increase over historic norms." Because each letter can request many records, the amount of information the government is accumulating is staggering. The article also reported that the FBI no longer destroys data collected through such sweeps, even if it is irrelevant to the investigation at hand. Instead, the article states, the FBI has been ordered to keep the data, even when it is clear it is on innocent Americans, and "to develop 'data mining' technology to probe for hidden links among the people in its growing cache of electronic files."
Status of Reauthorization Bills, Motion to Instruct
The differences between the House bill to reauthorize the PATRIOT Act (H.R. 3199) and the Senate bill (S. 1389) will be hammered out by a conference committee soon. We expect the House conferees to be named tomorrow (Wednesday, November 9). At that time, a motion will be offered to "instruct" the House conferees to adopt provisions limiting the PATRIOT Act's more intrusive powers. Although the motion will not contain specifics about NSLs, it will likely instruct the committee to retain the four-year sunsets for Sections 206 (roving wiretaps), 215 (business records), and "lone wolf" set forth in the Senate reauthorization bill.
Please call your Representative today, http://www.house.gov/, to urge him or her to vote YES on the "motion to instruct" that will be introduced Wednesday. Feel free to express your outrage with the FBI's use of NSLs in ways that Congress did not envision, as reported by the Washington Post, and the need to curb NSL power.
The conference committee may meet on Thursday to begin hammering out the details of the final PATRIOT Act reauthorization bill. More action alerts will be on the way this week and next as events develop. Please circulate this information widely through your community and through regional allies.
Thanks for all you do!