Approved on Friday, the new bill is part of a general intelligence spending bill signed by President Bush that will enable the FBI to subpoena business documents and transactions from a broader range of businesses without approval from a judge.
Backers of the Patriot Act made an attempt earlier this year to pass the same bill, but it was squashed in the Senate. According to Wired, by piggy-backing on the intelligence spending bill, the U.S. Government snuck it in through the back door and has now achieved what it has set out to do, which is to expand the reach of government into the inner workings of businesses, regardless of probable cause.
The new bill expands on the previous definition of the types of institutions and businesses the FBI can pursue without approval from the courts, and can now include all businesses "whose cash transactions have a high degree of usefulness in criminal, tax, or regulatory matters," according to Wired.
Under the current terms of the Patriot Act, the FBI and other federal agents can lawfully raid bank records and Internet and phone records by simply naming that company as part of a broader investigation into terrorism. The FBI doesn't need to show probable cause or consult a judge.
Additionally, the institution under investigation can be issued a gag order and prevented from revealing that the investigation ever took place.
Under the new bill, by expanding on the definition of what a "financial institution" is, investigative targets can now include Internet Service Providers, Internet companies, casinos, pawn shops, travel agencies, car dealers, and many other types of businesses.
According to Wired, other parts of the bill also eliminate annual reports to Congress on matters pertaining to how many times federal investigators accessed individual credit card information, foreign companies' involvement in the spread of weapons of mass destruction, the effectiveness of the intelligence community, and antidrug efforts.
According to reports, members of Congress who were in opposition to the bill will hold a repeal hearing on the issue sometime in the coming year.