Sen. Ken Salazar was one of the holdouts in December preventing the passage of the House-Senate conference report on the renewal of the Patriot Act. The Conference report was heavily weighted in favor of the House passed version, which was far more privacy intrusive than the Senate version. When Congress recessed in December, it passed a measure extending the Patriot Act just for a few months so further discussions could be held. Yesterday, in an interview with the Pueblo Cheiftan, Sen. Salazar says he expects a compromise to be worked out. He says the dispute is down to four or five issues:

  • Records Searches: “Section 215 – The White House proposal would continue to let federal agents search third-party records (library accounts, business records) without having to identify a specific suspect as the target. …Salazar said the Senate version of the Patriot Act, which the White House opposes, would require federal agents to identify a suspect when asking for court permission to conduct a secret search of records. Those secret searches are authorized by the Federal Intelligence and Surveillance Court.”

  • Gag orders : “Senate opponents also object to the gag-order provisions of Section 215, which currently prevent anyone receiving a search order from discussing it or challenging it, even in court. Salazar said Senate critics want to give recipients the ability to have those search orders reviewed by a judge….”We think a third party ought to be able to get legal advice and court review of that search order without the risk of being sent to jail,” Salazar said”.

  • Sneak and Peek Searches: This provision allows agents to search a home with a warrant but not leave any notice that they were there or list of what they took for up to 90 days. All sides agreed this was too long, but the the House wants to allow the Government 30 days before telling notifying a subject about the search, while the Senate is asking for 7 days, but allowing for a 90 day extension.

  • Roving Wiretaps: “Under current law, investigators can obtain wire taps on any telephone or electronic device used by a suspect or the person contacted. Under the Senate version, agents would have to identify the suspect being tapped and get court approval within 10 days for any additional wiretaps added during an investigation.”

Sen. Salazar also had some criticism for President Bush’s warrantless electronic monitoring authorization granted to the National Security Agency.

“There is a procedure for getting FISA court approval for those wiretaps up to 72 hours after the fact, and I still don’t understand the administration’s reasons for why they never have sought that approval,” Salazar said.

Sen. Salazar genuinely seems concerned about our privacy rights. But he also seems determined to reach a compromise. Wisconsin Sen. Russ Feingold, on the other hand, has taken more of a “no holds barred” attitude as to the Conference Report.

“Rather than holding staged meetings with hand-picked participants, the President needs to engage in good faith negotiations about the Patriot Act with the bipartisan coalition that is asking for reasonable changes to the Act. Contrary to the President’s misleading comments, nobody wants to see the Patriot Act expire – we want common-sense changes to the Act that would give the government the power to combat terrorism while protecting the rights and freedoms of law-abiding citizens. The conference report is not going to pass without meaningful changes.â€?

These are not the only problems with the Patriot Act Re-authorization bill. Much of it reads like a new crime bill. It contains new crimes, new death-penalty eligible offenses and a huge methamphetamine bill that would restrict the amount of cold pills that can be bought. But as Senator Salazar told the Chieftain, only the privacy provisions are holding up the passage. I see it differently. We need to be vigilant about keeping terror laws and drug laws separate, except in such instances where the two clearly are linked. We already have laws that penalize terrorism and laws that penalize illicit drug activity. There is no need to combine them.