Sen. Lisa Murkowski Introduces Bill to Roll Back Surveillance Provisions of PATRIOT Act

July 31, 2003. Sen. Lisa Murkowski (R-AK) introduced S 1552 [21 pages in PDF], the "Protecting the Rights of Individuals Act", or PRI Act. This bill contains numerous significant changes to the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act (FISA) and the Criminal Code to limit the powers of government to conduct searches, seizures, and surveillance. It contains some major rollbacks of provisions added to the FISA (Title 50) and the Criminal Code (Title 18) by the PATRIOT Act in late 2001. Sen. Ron Wyden (D-OR) is the cosponsor of the bill.

The bill includes a large collection of major revisions to the laws regulating electronic surveillance. The bill would toughen the requirement for obtaining and pen register and trap and trace orders. It would clarify that pen register and trap and trace orders cannot be used to obtain the subject lines of e-mail messages or any portion of a uniform resource locator (URL) beyond the top level domain.

It would raise the standard for obtaining a FISA order from "a significant purpose" of the surveillance must be foreign intelligence gathering, to "the primary purpose".

It would eliminate "John Doe" roving wiretaps. It would restrict the circumstances under which the government may delay giving notice of the issuance of a search warrant. It would restrict the government's access to business records under the FISA. It would provide that the FBI's access to the toll billing records and electronic communication transactional records of a "electronic communications service provider" does not apply to libraries. And, it would impose a moratorium on government data mining.

The bill is limited in that it focuses on the search, seizure and surveillance provisions of law that were amended by the PATRIOT Act, and especially those pertaining to electronic surveillance. S 1552 does not address other areas of law amended by the PATRIOT Act, such as those pertaining to biological weapons, border protection, terrorist financing infrastructure, and immigration and alien detention and deportation.

Supporters of the bill have characterized the bill as "some modest checks and balances" and "a prudent, mid-course correction" of the PATRIOT Act.

Steve Lilienthal of the Free Congress Foundation (FCF) stated in a release that "Conservatives who care about preserving our constitutional liberties and protecting privacy will find the Protecting the Rights of Individuals Act to their liking. It is a necessary and prudent rewrite of the USA-Patriot Act that demonstrates respect for the need of Federal law enforcement to have enhanced powers to fight the War on Terrorism while providing the necessary safeguards to protect the constitutional liberties and privacy of American citizens."

Jill Farrell of the FCF stated that "It offers a prudent, mid-course correction of the USA-Patriot Act. Now, after nearly two years of having had the USA-Patriot Act on the books, thoughtful conservatives are taking a needed second look at what Congress passed so hastily. In the heated "do something" atmosphere after September 11th, legislators were not provided with enough time to read and understand the legislation that they were voting on. PRI brings some accountability to law enforcement and provides some protection to citizens."

Ari Schwartz of the Center for Democracy and Technology (CDT) stated in a release that the bill "would place some modest checks and balances on the most troublesome provisions of the USA PATRIOT Act. Cosponsored by Sen. Ron Wyden (D-OR), the legislation's ten provisions leave in place expanded law enforcement and intelligence powers granted by the PATRIOT Act, but ensure that privacy and other civil liberties will be better protected when the FBI and other agencies exercise those powers.

Schwartz stated that the bill would "guarantee that Americans' homes will not be searched in secret unless necessary", "limit the FBI's ability to look at sensitive, personal information, including medical, library and Internet records, without demonstrating specific suspicion to a judge", and "increase judicial review for some telephone and Internet monitoring".

The bill is also supported by the American Library Association (ALA), People for the American Way (PFAW), American Conservative Union (ACU), American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU), and other groups.

Sen. Lisa MurkowskiSen. Lisa Murkowski (at right) is a freshman Senator. Former Sen. Frank Murkowski (R-AK) represented Alaska in the Senate from 1980 until his election as Governor of Alaska in November of 2002. This left his seat in the Senate vacant. Under Alaska law, the Governor has authority to appoint a replacement to a vacant Senate seat. So, as Governor, he appointed Lisa Murkowski, his daughter, to serve the remaining two years of his term. At the time, Lisa Murkowski was a third term legislator in the Alaska state House. Moreover, she had just been elected House Majority Leader. She previously practiced law in Anchorage, Alaska.

There are already several Senate Democrats who have actively advocated restraint of law enforcement authority in the name of individual liberties, including Sen. Russ Feingold (D-WI), Sen. Ron Wyden (D-OR), and Sen. Patrick Leahy (D-VT). Also, there have been several civil liberties proponents in the House -- notably former Rep. Bob Barr (R-GA), who lost his seat in 2002.

Sen. Murkowski's introduction of this bill may indicate the emergence of a Republican advocate of civil liberties in debates over the appropriate scope of government search, seizure and surveillance authority in the fight against terrorism.

Bob Barr, who now works for the American Conservative Union Foundation's 21st Century Privacy and Freedom Center, stated in a release that "Sen. Murkowski is leading the charge in the U.S. Senate to create sound public policy that will assist law enforcement and simultaneously preserve the privacy and civil liberties of law-abiding Americans."

She is also taking positions opposed by the federal law enforcement, intelligence and homeland security agencies. And, she is taking positions opposed by the Bush administration, and most senior Senate Republicans.