A coalition of 20 civil liberties organizations, including the Center for Democracy & Technology, released a letter today endorsing H.R. 3845, the USA Patriot Amendments Act. The bill was introduced by the Chairman of the House Judiciary Committee, Rep. John Conyers (D-MI) and Subcommittee Chairs Rep. Jerrold Nadler (D-NY) and Rep. Bobby Scott (D-VA). The Senate version of the legislation, the PATRIOT Act Sunset Extension Act, S. 1692, has not drawn a similar level of support in the civil liberties community, largely because of the different ways the bills deal with National Security Letters. CDT has prepared a chart that compares the two bills.
An NSL is a simple form document issued by the FBI and other intelligence agencies that requires Internet Service Providers, banks and other financial institutions, and credit agencies to turn over records about their customers. There is no judicial authorization; the letters are issued when the agency seeking the records decides that they are relevant to its own investigation. The letters are usually accompanied by a “gag” order that, with limited exceptions, bars anyone from disclosing that information was sought or obtained with an NSL. Two Inspector General reports have found widespread abuse and misuse of NSLs.
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