US updates surveillance laws

Legislation introduced by a US senator would be included in some of the law enforcement powers granted by the USA Patriot Act.

Legislation introduced by a US senator will be included in some of the law enforcement powers granted by the Patriot Act.

The Protecting the Rights of Individuals Act, introduced by Senator Lisa Murkowski, would make a number of changes to the act, which was passed in October 2001.

The bill would require a court order for US law enforcement agencies to conduct electronic surveillance.

Murkowski's bill would also require increased judicial reviews before law enforcement agencies monitor some telephone and internet usage, and it would limit the US Federal Bureau of Investigation's ability to look at sensitive, personal information, including medical, library and internet records, without demonstrating specific suspicion to a judge.

The bill would require that law enforcement agencies wanting to place roving wiretaps on telephones must show courts information that a crime has been, or will be, committed, and it limits law enforcement requests of libraries to turn over information on the internet use of their patrons to investigation standards covered in the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act.

The US needed to update its antiterrorism laws after the 11 September attacks, Murkowski said, but Congress needs to make sure the law is working as intended.

"We must strike a careful and constitutional balance between protecting the individual rights of Americans and giving our law enforcement and intelligence officials the tools they need to prevent future terrorist attacks," she said.

"To date, it appears portions of the Patriot Act may have moved the scales out of balance. My goal is simply to make sure that our laws are balanced."

The Murkowski bill would put some checks and balances into the Patriot Act, said Jim Dempsey, executive director of the Center for Democracy and Technology.

"The Patriot Act was passed in great haste," Dempsey said. "As often happens with legislation passes hastily, it makes some mistakes. It overreacted to 11 September."

Dempsey praised the bill for limiting secret searches of US residents' homes and its limitation of "blanket" searches of information on US residents or their internet use.

Grant Gross writes for IDG News Service

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