Patriot Act Provisions Get Obama Support

Critics of the Patriot Act protested loudly that the FBI could obtain individuals' library records under the legislation. While this was technically accurate, section 215 is much more expansive than reviewing a suspected terrorist's summer reading list, Justice argues. Section 215 allows the FBI to obtain any business record, "any tangible things," like credit card and bank statements and also allows access to medical and mental health records. The provision has been used to obtain communication and subscriber information to help set up surveillance and monitoring of computers and telephones.

Weich's letter addresses the concerns about the library provision. "At the time of the USA PATRIOT Act, there was concern that the FBI would exploit the broad scope of the business records authority to collect sensitive personal information on constitutionally protected activities, such as the use of public libraries. This simply has not occurred, even in the environment of heightened terrorist threat activity. The oversight provided by Congress since 2001 and the specific oversight provisions added to the statute in 2006 have helped to ensure that the authority is being used as intended."

Administration Wants Ability to Obtain Business Records

Weich's letter argues, "Based upon this operational experience, we believe that the FISA business records authority should be reauthorized. There will continue to be instances in which FBI investigators need to obtain transactional information that does not fall within the scope of authorities relating to national security letters and are operating in an environment that precludes the use of less secure criminal authorities. Many of these instances will be mundane (as they have been in the past), such as the need to obtain driver's license information that is protected by state law. Others will be more complex, such as the need to track the activities of intelligence officers through their use of certain business services."

The Justice Department also notes that the "Lone Wolf" provision has never actually been used, but it would still like to keep the authority that allows counterterrorism investigators to obtain an FISA warrant if they are not able to connect the individual to a country or a specific terrorist group.

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