- The Washington Times - Thursday, June 9, 2005

A Senate committee this week voted to give the FBI new subpoena powers without prior approval from a court — the latest step as Congress evaluates the USA Patriot Act that passed in 2001 and moves to extend 16 provisions due to expire at the end of this year.

The Senate Select Committee on Intelligence, meeting behind closed doors Tuesday, voted 11-4 to extend the expiring provisions and allow the attorney general to issue subpoenas for business records — including medical, financial and gun, hotel, and education documents — without the target’s permission. The order could be challenged in court, but only after it has been executed.

Former Georgia Rep. Bob Barr called the bill “fishing expedition powers to snoop.”

“This is taking us from bad to worse,” said Mr. Barr, a Republican and chairman of Patriots to Restore Checks and Balances, a coalition of existing organizations that oppose the Patriot Act, including the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU).

Opponents of the Patriot Act are backing the Safe Act, which includes checks and balances on new investigative powers handed to the Justice Department after the September 11 terrorist attacks.

But a bipartisan majority on the intelligence committee backed extending the expiring provisions and adding the powers.

Sen. John D. Rockefeller IV of West Virginia, the top Democrat on the committee, supported the expansion but said the new authority should be limited to emergencies. He said he will fight for amendments on the Senate floor to try to limit the subpoena authority.

“The expressed justification for administrative subpoenas — which would not be reviewed by a court unless they are challenged by the recipient of the subpoena — is that they may be needed in emergency circumstances,” Mr. Rockefeller said.

Mr. Barr said few businesses will even know that they can contest the request or will shoulder the legal fees.

“When the FBI serves them, they don’t say here’s a subpoena, and by the way, you don’t have to comply with it, you can fight it in court. The challenge doesn’t go to the person who has equity at stake. It’s no skin off the business’s teeth, and they want to maintain good relations with the FBI,” Mr. Barr said.

The Patriot Act passed after the September 11 terrorist attacks and gave law-enforcement officials expanded tools to go after suspected terrorists. But 16 of the provisions of the bill are due to expire at the end of this year, and the House and Senate are in the process of deciding which should be scrapped and which should be made permanent.

President Bush yesterday called on Congress to pass a new Patriot bill, saying it’s essential to ward off terrorists.

Among the provisions due to expire are expanded abilities to wiretap and to disseminate information gathered from wiretaps and expanded abilities under the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act.

In the House, the Judiciary Committee is taking the lead and has held 11 hearings. Republicans hope to have a bill pass the House by the time Congress recesses for August.

In the Senate, the intelligence committee shares oversight of some the Patriot Act’s provisions with the Senate Judiciary Committee, a panel that could have the final say in what legislative language lives or dies.

Sen. Arlen Specter, Judiciary Committee chairman and Pennsylvania Republican, has two options. He can request a sequential referral when the legislation goes to the Senate floor, forcing the bill back into his committee. The Judiciary Committee then would have 15 days to amend the bill. Or the Judiciary Committee can pass a separate bill without the expanded powers and battle it out with the intelligence committee on the Senate floor.

Republican and Democratic Senate staffers close to negotiations say that administrative subpoenas are “controversial” and that Mr. Specter will likely oppose the measure.

Mr. Specter is planning a hearing with FBI Director Robert S. Mueller III and Deputy Attorney General James B. Comey to discuss the specifics of the intelligence committee bill.

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