Blog: Shield law, PATRIOT Act on 111th agenda

Tuesday, January 19, 2010

As the 111th Congress begins its second session, a number of bills affecting
First Amendment freedoms are up for consideration by the full Senate in
2010, including:

  • S. 448 — Free Flow of Information Act: After 17 markup hearings and
    much negotiation with the Obama administration, the so-called “news media
    shield” bill passed its first hurdle in the Senate Judiciary Committee by a 14-5
    vote Dec. 10. The bill would prevent the federal government from compelling the
    press to identify a confidential source in most cases. The House passed a
    similar measure (H.R. 985) in March. Though similar to the Senate bill, the
    House’s version has a narrower definition of a journalist. If the Senate version
    passes, a compromise between both bills will have to be passed before a final
    bill is presented to President Obama for his signature.
  • S. 1692 — USA PATRIOT Act Sunset Extension Act of 2009: On Oct. 8,
    voting 11 to 8, the Senate Judiciary Committee approved S. 1692 after largely
    rejecting a series of proposed changes to surveillance laws sought by civil
    liberties and privacy advocates. Congress extended the sunset deadline for the
    sections of the USA PATRIOT Act that were set to expire on Dec. 31, 2009 —
    Section 215, roving wiretaps, and lone wolf — to Feb. 28, 2010. On Dec. 16, the
    House Committee on Financial Services granted an extension for further
    consideration of its own version of this bill (H.R. 3845) to Jan. 29.
    Section 215 is also known as the “library provision” even though it never
    mentions libraries or bookstores. It allows easier access to business records in
    foreign intelligence investigations. Investigators can obtain “any tangible
    thing (including books, records, papers, documents and other items),” as long as
    the records are sought “in connection with” a terror investigation.
    The roving wiretaps provision specifically allows “roving wiretaps” against
    suspected spies and terrorists, bypassing restrictions that require separate
    court authorizations for each device used by the target of an investigation.
    The lone-wolf provision allows intelligence investigations of suspected lone
    terrorists not connected to a foreign nation or organization.
  • Meanwhile, as the debate in Congress over health-insurance reform heats up, C-SPAN recently sent a letter to congressional
    leaders urging them to open up for public viewing negotiations between the House
    and Senate on any compromise bill. Rep. Vern Buchanan, R-Fla., introduced
    legislation in support of open debate (H. Res. 847).

    See quarterly updates on more congressional legislation affecting First
    Amendment freedoms, and more details on the above items, at the links
    below.

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