Meet The New Big Brother, Same As The Old Big Brotherby Doug Mataconis
If you thought that the Obama Administration would bring an end to the Bush Administration’s domestic surveillance programs, you were wrong:
FBI Director Robert S. Mueller III urged lawmakers yesterday to renew intelligence-gathering measures in the USA Patriot Act that are set to expire in December, calling them “exceptional” tools to help protect national security.
The law, passed shortly after the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks, created divisions between proponents, who said it was necessary to deter terrorism, and privacy advocates warning that it tramples on Americans’ civil liberties. Portions of the law are up for reauthorization this year.
Mueller told members of the Senate Judiciary Committee he hopes that the reauthorization of two provisions would be far less controversial than in previous years. One of those provisions, which helps authorities secure access to business records, “has been exceptionally helpful in our national security investigations,” he said.
In response to a question from Sen. Benjamin L. Cardin (D-Md.), Mueller said that his agents had used the provision about 220 times between 2004 and 2007. Data for last year were not yet available, he said.
The measure allows investigators probing terrorism to seek a suspect’s records from third parties such as financial services and travel and telephone companies without notifying the suspect. The American Civil Liberties Union has criticized the provision, saying it violates the First Amendment rights of U.S. citizens.
Another provision, permitting roving wiretaps of terrorism suspects, was used 147 times and has helped eliminate “an awful lot of paperwork,” Mueller said. In the past, authorities had to seek court approval for each electronic device carried by a suspect, from a cellphone and a BlackBerry to a home computer. But under the provision, one warrant can cover all of those machines.
So much for change we can believe in, huh ?