Sen. Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.) was none too pleased with The New York Times this morning. At the Senate Judiciary Committee’s markup session of the Patriot Act Sunset Extension Act, which would extend several provisions of the controversial law with only minor modifications, she went out of her way to read portions of the Times’ editorial this morning on the subject, which criticizes Congress for heading towards renewing the law “without adequate oversight or safeguards or touching other problematic areas of the new surveillance and intelligence framework.” The USA Patriot Act was quickly pushed through Congress shortly after the terrorist attacks of 9/11, and the Times notes today that its “excessive powers” allowed for an “overly expansive snooping regime.” Although a few Senators — notably Russ Feingold (D-Wis.), Richard Durbin (D-Ill.) and, perhaps surprisingly, Arlen Specter (D-Pa.) — worked hard to rein in those excesses by trying to limit those powers only for use against people actually suspected of engaging in international terrorism, most senators, as revealed in today’s markup session, were convinced by closed-door briefings with the FBI and Justice Department that most of the surveillance authority in the Patriot Act should be renewed.
While the Times said the bill taking shape in the Senate allows for “excesses that contribute nothing to making America safer,” Feinstein this morning called that “dead wrong,” but based her reasoning on a classified briefing she could not discuss.
Feingold, however, who was also privy to that briefing, strongly disagreed. Objecting to “the overall tone of what’s happening in this legislation,” he said, “The New York Times is absolutely right, that this bill is moving in the wrong direction.”