Attorney General Alberto Gonzales will propose “technical modifications” to the controversial USA Patriot Act today to address the concerns of critics and ensure that the legislation is renewed by Congress, the Washington Post reports. Before the Senate Judiciary Committee, Gonzales will support changes in the law concerning secret warrants for financial documents, library data, and other business records. The changes would clearly limit the use of such warrants to national security investigations and would allow targets to mount legal challenges to the search.
The proposal marks a shift for the Justice Department, which under John Ashcroft had refused to entertain proposed changes to the legislation. It marks an acknowledgment of the growing clout of critics, who come from both the political left and right, and have persuaded scores of communities around the country to pass resolutions condemning the act. The Justice Department released statistics yesterday showing that investigators have used “sneak and peek” warrants 155 times since October 2001. Officials argue that the number is relatively small given the thousands of warrants executed by law enforcement officials.