May 4, 2005 – Civil libertarians called on Congress Tuesday to change a provision of the Patriot Act that currently allows investigators to search suspects' homes without notifying them until later.
Law enforcement officers and the Bush Administration defend the "sneak and peak" provision in Section 213 of the Act, saying it is needed in cases where notifying the suspect of a search would put an investigation in serious jeopardy. Section 213, which federal agencies report they have used 155 times since 2001, does not expire later this year like other Patriot Act provisions.
The American Civil Liberties Union argued that the term "serious jeopardy" is too broad "and must be narrowly curtailed."
While sixteen provisions of the Patriot Act are up for renewal at the end of the year, three are particularly controversial. Section 206 allows intelligence agents to wiretap a suspect's phone and Internet conversations, without identifying a specific phone or the suspect. Section 215 lets federal officials gather records from businesses and libraries during foreign intelligence and international terrorism investigations.
Critics such as the ACLU argue that these provisions diminish the constitutional rights of all citizens. Others argue that the powers afforded federal agencies under the controversial provision are greater than even the agents themselves have demanded, unnecessarily providing opportunity for abuse.