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Obama Supports Key Elements of Patriot Act

By Dan Weil   |   Wednesday, 16 Sep 2009 11:01 AM

The Obama administration wants to continue three key elements of the Patriot Act: giving the government access to business records, operating roving wiretaps and conducting surveillance on “lone wolf” suspects.

Lone-wolf terrorism suspects are those with no known link to foreign governments or terrorist groups. The three provisions are currently scheduled to expire at year-end.

The Obama administration made its views known in a letter from the Justice Department to Congress that was made public Tuesday.

The administration is willing to consider stronger civil rights protections in the law “provided that they do not undermine the effectiveness” of the three provisions, states the letter, signed by Assistant Attorney General Ronald Weich.

Liberal legislators and civil rights groups were pressuring the White House to oppose the provisions. A coalition of liberal and conservative groups has objected to the Patriot Act on the grounds that it gives the government too much power to invade Americans’ privacy.

The provision on business records has long been criticized by rights groups for giving the government access to citizens' library records, Huffington Post reports.

President Obama has hedged his stance on the law. As a presidential candidate, he said he would examine it closely based on his past expertise in constitutional law. Then in May, he said laws must be updated to deal with terrorism threats, but in a way that preserves freedom and accountability.

Sen. Patrick Leahy, chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee, was similarly vague in responding to the letter. He said in a statement that it is important for the White House and Congress to "work together to ensure that we protect both our national security and our civil liberties."

The committee has scheduled a hearing next week on the Patriot Act.

Obama has extended several Bush administration policies that liberals pushed him to drop, including wiretaps of security threats and a stance against publishing additional pictures of alleged torture of terrorism suspects by U.S. military personnel in Iraq and Afghanistan.

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