May 2, 2006 1:19 PM PDT

Senators quiz FBI director on Patriot Act

WASHINGTON--The FBI's use of a Patriot Act provision that lets it make secret requests for subscriber information from Internet service providers drew scrutiny from U.S. senators on Tuesday.

At a wide-ranging oversight hearing convened here by the Senate Judiciary Committee, FBI Director Robert Mueller faced a number of questions from Democrats voicing concern over the scope of the controversial investigative tactic, known as a National Security Letter, or NSL.

Federal law requires communication service providers to provide records about individuals in response to such letters, which do not require the use of a court warrant. Legal challenges to that measure's constitutionality are still pending.

Until recently, recipients of such letters were also not allowed to disclose the FBI's request to anyone. The final Patriot Act reauthorization approved earlier this year loosened those requirements somewhat, allowing recipients to appeal the requests to a court and to seek legal advice.

On Friday, the Justice Department reported to Congress that it had made 9,254 such requests pertaining to 3,501 "U.S. persons" in 2005, according to a copy of the agency's letter posted at the Federation of American Scientists Web site. A Washington Post report last fall, often cited by politicians dissatisfied with the Patriot Act, pegged the number of letters at 30,000 per year.

Sen. Russ Feingold, a Wisconsin Democrat who has been one of the most vocal critics of the Patriot Act, said Tuesday that the number was "far, far larger" than the number of requests made under Section 215 of the Patriot Act. Sometimes called the "library provision," Section 215 lets investigators obtain business and personal records but first requires a court order and prior approval from top FBI officials.

"I fear the reason might be that in Section 215 they have to go before a judge, and with National Security Letters, they don't," he said.

Mueller said he hadn't given much thought to the disparity. "I'd have to get back to you on that," he told Feingold.

Sen. Richard Durbin, an Illinois Democrat, said he wanted Mueller's assurance that the most recent incarnation of the Patriot Act makes it clear that libraries are generally not considered Internet service providers that would be subject to complying with national security letters.

Library advocacy groups have long voiced concerns over the Patriot Act's potential impact on citizens' privacy and the possibility of its allowing for investigative "fishing expeditions." Durbin and Sen. John Sununu, a New Hampshire Republican, have attempted to clarify that libraries performing their "traditional functions," including providing basic Internet access, would not have to comply with national security letter requests.

Mueller said he'd have to go back and look at the "specific language in the statute," adding, "it's somewhat of a complicated provision, and I want to be precise in my answer to you."

"There is a concern across America and this community...I thought we'd put it to rest," Durbin said. "Now I'm going to have restless nights until you get back to me."

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6 comments

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Terrorism talks people into anything.
To really talk americans into wanting the Patriot act in it's entirety, all the feds have to do is what they did 4 1/2 years ago, which is let terrorists attack us again.
Posted by casper2004 (267 comments )
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Kind of late.
Why didn't the senators debate the Patriot Act back when it was introduced? Half of them didn't even read it...

Dave
Posted by Dave_Brown (46 comments )
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Patriot act...
Not only didn't the politicians read it, they helped RAM it through to passage without knowing asingle item the act covered, or why.

Typical of our ELECTED 'officials', they NEVER do for US, which is what they were ELECTED TO DO!

They work for us, NOT the opther way around!

NAZIS ALL!!
Posted by AECRADIO (21 comments )
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what you read, what you say
Between the hackers and the Patriot Act, we have to change how we use the internet to communicate and do business. There are easy to implement email solutions that can maintain your privacy:<a class="jive-link-external" href="http://www.essentialsecurity.com/products.htm" target="_newWindow">http://www.essentialsecurity.com/products.htm</a>
Posted by 209979377489953107664053243186 (71 comments )
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Hacks
I saved it but all solutions can be hacked. Bill Gates knows the way.
Posted by casper2004 (267 comments )
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Title is deceiving
The title says: [Senators quiz FBI director on Patriot Act] when in fact it should be [Democrats quiz FBI director on Patriot Act]

Why is it that only the Democrats are opposing it and not the republicans.

Likewise, the Public Library offers one privacy as for what books they check out, etc.

But Privacy and the Internet are oxymorons. There ain't NO SUCH THING as privacy on the internet! (* LOL *)

Walt
Posted by wbenton (522 comments )
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