Senate Intelligence Committee approves new FBI powers in Patriot Act

WASHINGTON -- The FBI would get expanded powers to subpoena records without the approval of a judge or grand jury in terrorism investigations under Patriot Act revisions approved by the Senate Intelligence Committee.

Some senators who voted 11-4 Tuesday to move the bill forward said they would push for limits on the new powers the measure would grant to law enforcement agencies.

"This bill must be amended on the floor to protect national security while protecting Constitutional rights," said Democratic Sen. Barbara Mikulski.

Ranking Democrat Jay Rockefeller supported the bill overall but said he would push for limits that would allow such administrative subpoenas "only if immediacy dictates."

Rockefeller and other Democratic committee members, such as Sen. Dianne Feinstein, also are concerned that the bill would grant powers to federal law enforcement agencies that could be used in criminal inquiries rather than intelligence-gathering ones.

Republican Committee Chairman Sen. Pat Roberts said the bill places new checks and balances on the powers it would grant, such as new procedures that would allow people to challenge such administrative orders. He called the Patriot Act "a vital tool in the war on terror" and lauded the Democrats who voted for it in spite of misgivings.

Portions of the Patriot Act -- signed into law six weeks after the Sept. 11 attacks -- are set to expire at the end of 2005. The bill would renew and expand the act.

The bill also must be considered by the Senate Judiciary Committee, where Feinstein and other Democrats planned to again offer amendments.

Overall, Rockefeller said, the committee gave a nod to most of the Patriot Act in its first few years fighting the nation's new enemies.

"We concluded that these tools have helped keep America safe ... and should be made permanent," Rockefeller said in a statement.

Still, civil libertarians panned the bill and the closed-door meetings in which it was written.

"When lawmakers seek to rewrite our Fourth Amendment rights, they should at least have the gumption to do so in public," said Lisa Graves, the ACLU's senior counsel for legislative strategy. "Americans have a reasonable expectation that their federal government will not gather records about their health, their wealth and the transactions of their daily life without probable cause of a crime and without a court order."

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