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Patriot Act renewal deal would institute judicial review of powers

[JURIST] Legislators on a US House and Senate conference committee for the USA Patriot Act and Terrorism Prevention Reauthorization Act of 2005 [bill summary] are closing on a deal that would limit certain law enforcement powers under the Act in the process of making many of its provisions permanent. Under the tentative deal, still officially under wraps, judges would be granted authority to review and reject national security letters [PDF sample text; ACLU backgrounder] under which the government can gain access to individual's phone, Internet and financial records. After the USA Patriot Act [PDF text] was approved in 2001, the FBI issued about 30,000 such letters each year, which was a hundred-fold increase since the letters were first authorized in the 1970s. A federal judge struck down that portion of the Act [JURIST report] as unconstitutional last year, and several senators have expressed skepticism [JURIST report] over the tactic. The committee also has reportedly rejected a request by the Bush administration to give the FBI authority to obtain subpoenas for wiretaps without judicial approval. The Bush administration has maintained that the Act has not been abused since its passage in the wake of the Sept. 11 terror attacks. The provisions of the Patriot Act are set to expire on Dec. 31 unless reauthorized, although the conference committee has not yet begun formal negotiations. AP has more.

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