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Congress Arrives at A Deal on Patriot Act

But Congress does not look ready to hand Bush all of the sweeping powers it was willing to grant in 2001. Negotiators refused to back the administration's request for administrative subpoenas, which would have expanded the government's power to subpoena records without the approval of a judge or grand jury in terrorism investigations. Senate Intelligence Committee Chairman Pat Roberts (R-Kan.) called that "a serious mistake," saying the government already has such powers to investigate non-security issues such as Medicare fraud.

"We can do it for a dirty doctor but not a dirty bomber," he said.

While the government would retain access to library, bookstore and business records, the FBI would face new limits on the retention and dissemination of such information.

The compromise also places new controls on the FBI's use of "national security letters," which require companies to provide private information about their customers and to keep the request secret. The Patriot Act allowed the FBI to use such letters on any citizen it deemed relevant to a national security investigation, even if the target is not suspected of any wrong-doing.

A Nov. 6 article in The Washington Post revealed that loosened restrictions in the Patriot Act helped boost the annual use of such letters 100-fold, to more than 30,000 a year from about 300 before the Sept. 11 attacks.

Under the compromise, the Justice Department would have to disclose the number of requests it made for information concerning different targeted people in the United States, but not including the communications subscriber information that makes up the bulk of such requests.

Those who receive such letters would be allowed to consult a lawyer and challenge the requests under a new judicial review process.

But critics said those controls were more cosmetic than real. A recipient wishing to reveal only the receipt of a security letter would have to prove that disclosure would not harm national security or diplomatic relations or endanger any lives or public safety, while the government can merely assert disclosure would have those effects.

Staff writer Dan Eggen contributed to this report.


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