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Senate Panel Set to Debate Patriot Act

By Dan Eggen
Washington Post Staff Writer
Tuesday, May 24, 2005

The long political battle over the USA Patriot Act will enter a new phase this week as the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence debates whether to approve a bill that not only would renew the anti-terrorism law, but also would give the FBI significant new powers in conducting counterterrorism and counterintelligence investigations.

Legislation proposed by committee Chairman Pat Roberts (R-Kan.) would allow the FBI to subpoena records in intelligence probes without the approval of a judge or grand jury and would make it easier for the bureau to get copies of mail, according to committee aides and a draft copy of the bill.

Civil liberties groups vowed yesterday to fight the proposals, arguing that they pose significant threats to individual privacy rights and that the government's anti-terrorism powers need to be pared.

James Dempsey, executive director of the Center for Democracy and Technology, said in a conference call with reporters that the bill would give the FBI new powers that have been "long sought, and rejected" by Congress because of civil liberties concerns.

Representatives from both sides of the debate are slated to testify before the committee today, although aides said the ongoing Senate battle over judicial filibusters could force a postponement. The intelligence committee has also scheduled a closed-door markup session on Roberts's proposal Thursday -- prompting further objections from critics who say the process should be held in public.

Although Roberts's bill is the first one likely to advance in Congress, its fate is far from certain. Both the House and Senate judiciary committees are debating their own Patriot Act changes.

The Patriot Act, passed after the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks, has been the subject of numerous hearings in recent months as lawmakers debate whether to renew 16 provisions that are set to expire by year's end.

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