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US Attorney General and former White House torture apologist Alberto Gonzales warned the Senate Judiciary Committee on Tuesday that certain temporary provisions of the so-called "Patriot" Act must not be allowed to expire as scheduled later this year.

"Al Qaeda and other terrorist groups still pose a grave threat to the security of the American people, and now is not the time to relinquish some of our most effective tools in this fight," Gonzales explained.

However, since terrorists will always pose a risk, Gonzales's argument is a slick way of admitting that the Feds have grown accustomed to the powers that Congress intended as temporary, and are determined to keep them. Which, of course, everyone has known from day one.

Gonzales also said that the provisions he wants kept have already saved lives and thwarted terrorist attacks, but he did not offer any specific examples.

He has indicated that the Bush Administration might compromise slightly on some of the most objectionable permanent provisions, such as so-called "sneak and peek" warrants, or, as the Justice Department prefers to call them, "delayed notification" warrants, that allow the Feds to break into your house secretly, execute a search, and not tell you about it until they wish to.

He said he would support allowing victims of these Gestapo-style searches the right to consult a lawyer and challenge the warrant in court, after the fact. In exchange, he would like all of the temporary provisions made permanent.

FBI Director Robert Mueller was also on hand to ask the Committee for expanded powers to issue an administrative subpoena - essentially a demand for information such as medical, banking, and phone and internet records without a judge's prior approval.

"For many years, the FBI has had administrative subpoena authority for investigations of crimes ranging from drug trafficking to health care fraud to child exploitation. Yet, when it comes to terrorism investigations, the FBI has no such authority," he complained.

However, opposition to the Act is growing on Capitol Hill. US Senators Larry Craig (Republican, Idaho) and Dick Durbin (Democtat, Illinois) plan to re-introduce previously failed legislation called the Security and Freedom Enhancement (SAFE) Act, to curb parts of the "Patriot" Act that they say are excessive.

If it succeeds, the White House is certain to veto it, and it is unlikely that Congress would get the votes to override. Thus it's probable that the Patriot Act will remain in force, with only superficial concessions to privacy and civil liberties. ®

Related stories

Patriot Act used to quell laser pointer terror
Senator calls for Patriot Act scale-back
Senators propose Patriot Act limitations

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