Tentative Deal on Patriot Act, Sources Say

The Associated Press
Wednesday, November 16, 2005; 3:38 PM

WASHINGTON -- House and Senate negotiators have struck a tentative deal on
the expiring Patriot Act that would curb the FBI's investigative power and
require the Justice Department to more fully report its secret requests for
information about ordinary people.

Democrats and civil libertarians said that while the tentative deal makes
some improvements, it doesn't address their chief concern: the curbing of
FBI power to gather certain information by requiring the investigators to
prove the subject's records are connected to a foreign agent or government.

"It gives a nod toward checks and balances without fixing the most
fundamental flaws in the Patriot Act," said Lisa Graves of the Americans
Civil Liberties Union.

The agreement, which would make most provisions of the existing law
permanent, was reached just before dawn Wednesday. But by midmorning GOP
leaders had already made plans for a House vote on Thursday and a Senate
vote by the end of the week. That would put the centerpiece of President
Bush's war on terror on his desk before Thanksgiving, a month before more
than a dozen provisions were set to expire.

Officials negotiating the deal described it on condition of anonymity
because the draft is not official and has not been signed by any of the 34

Any deal would mark Congress' first revision of the law passed a few weeks
after the Sept. 11 terror attacks. In doing so, lawmakers said they tried to
find the nation's comfort level with expanded law enforcement power in the
post-9/11 era _ a task that carries extra political risks for all 435
members of the House and a third of the Senate facing midterm elections next

For Bush, too, such a renewal would come at a sensitive time. With his
approval ratings slipping in his second term, the president could bolster a
tough-on-terrorism image.

The tentative deal would make permanent all but a handful of the expiring
provisions, the sources said. Others would expire in seven years if not
renewed by Congress. They include rules on wiretapping, obtaining business
records under the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act (FISA) and new
standards for monitoring "lone wolf" terrorists who may be operating
independent of a foreign agent or power.

By noon, House Democrats on the panel were issuing complaints about the
seven-year expiration, arguing that since the House had endorsed the
four-year expiration dates enacted as part of the Senate bill, the three
provisions should "sunset" at four years, not seven. They also complained
that Republican negotiators shut them out of the last phase of talks, a
charge Republicans deny.

The draft also would impose a new requirement that the Justice Department
report to Congress annually on its use of national security letters, secret
requests for the phone, business and Internet records of ordinary people.
The aggregate number of letters issued per year, reported to be about
30,000, is classified. Citing confidential investigations, the Justice
Department has refused lawmakers' request for the information.

The 2001 Patriot Act removed the requirement that the records sought be
those of someone under suspicion. As a result, FBI agents can review the
digital records of a citizen as long as the bureau can certify that the
person's records are "relevant" to a terrorist investigation.

Also part of the tentative agreement are modest new requirements on
so-called roving wiretaps _ monitoring devices placed on a single person's
telephones and other devices to keep a target from evading law enforcement
officials by switching phones or computers.

The tentative deal also would raise the threshold for securing business
records under FISA, requiring law enforcement to submit a "statement of
facts" showing "reasonable grounds to believe" the records are relevant to
an investigation.
© 2005 The Associated Press

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