Bipartisan Caucus to Push Patriot Act Reform

Matt O'Conner
WASHINGTON — A handful of U.S. Representatives have formed an odd alliance to press for major revisions to the USA Patriot Act, which gave the government sweeping surveillance powers in the wake of the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks.

The Patriot Act Reform Caucus, announced today, is made up of Jerrold Nadler, D-N.Y., Jeff Flake, R-Ariz., Ron Paul, R-Texas, and Bernie Sanders, I-Vt.

“The Patriot Act needs to be revised to bring it into conformity with the Constitution and to enhance checks and balances,” Nadler said. “Our default should not be simply to accept an executive branch who says, ‘Just trust me.’”

The group hopes to recruit upwards of 100 additional representatives from both major parties to build bipartisan support for reforms regarding issues such as the government’s ability to monitor electronic communications and how the information it gathers can be used.

Nadler has called attention in particular to the use of National Security Letters allowing the FBI to access customer records from Internet service providers without warrant or notification to customers.

He also pointed to the so-called “sneak-and-peak” provision that lets investigators enter homes and businesses, often posing as service or utility workers, to gather evidence.

Fifteen of the law’s provisions are set to expire at the end of the year, and the Bush administration is asking Congress to make all of the provisions permanent.

The American Civil Liberties Union has denounced these provisions as too intrusive and claims that they may be used in investigations that are not related in any way to terrorism — a charge that has been exacerbated by secrecy surrounding the law’s use.

But Attorney General Alberto Gonzales in hearings before both the House and Senate this week argued that there is no substantial evidence of such abuse.

The Patriot Act Reform Caucus is unusual not only in its bipartisan makeup, but also in the somewhat rabble-rousing nature of several of its founding members.

Though listed as an Independent, Sanders considers himself more of a socialist, and Paul has broken party ranks to openly blast what he calls the Bush administration’s disregard for civil liberties.