Democrats propose alternative Patriot Act extension bill

Earlier this year, the House extended until May 27 the ability of intelligence agencies to access business records, conduct roving wiretaps, and surveil "lone wolf" operators who are not connected with major groups that threaten the United States. The GOP bill, H.R. 1800, would make permanent the lone wolf provision and extend the other two until the end of 2017.

Conyers' bill would extend all three authorities only until the end of 2013, effectively allowing Congress to consider the provisions in a non-election year, although much earlier than the GOP proposal. Conyers said his proposal is supported by the Obama administration.

The bill also sets new requirements before the government can use these authorities. For example, it requires the government to submit a written statement to courts on why access to business records is needed, something Conyers said the government already does by practice.

The bill also seeks to rein in the use of national security letters (NSLs), which are a form of subpoena that the FBI and others agencies use to demand records, and are not subject to judicial oversight. Republicans have argued previously that a debate on the use of NSLs has no place in a debate on the Patriot Act, since NSLs were first authorized in 1986 in a bill written by now Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman Pat Leahy (D-Vt.).

Nonetheless, Conyers' bill would sunset the use of these letters, until 2013, at which time Congress could reauthorize this practice. The bill would also require the FBI to keep written records of facts used to justify NSLs, and require the release of a public report on the number of NSLs used each year.

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