The Bush administration and Senate Republican leaders are advocating the significant expansion of the FBI’s power to demand business records in terror investigations without obtaining approval from a judge, the New York Times reports. The proposal, which is likely to be considered next week by the Senate intelligence committee, would allow investigators to subpoena records from businesses and other institutions without a judge’s sign-off if they declared that the material was needed as part of a foreign intelligence investigation.
The proposal is part of a broader plan to extend antiterrorism powers under the USA Patriot Act. Officials who support the idea said it would give the FBI a needed tool to track leads in terrorism and espionage investigations that would be quicker and less cumbersome than existing methods. They pointed out that the administrative subpoena power being sought in terror cases was already in use in more than 300 other types of crimes, including health care fraud, child exploitation, racketeering, and drug trafficking. Civil rights advocates protested that the plan would give the FBI virtually unchecked authority in terror investigations. An American Civil Liberties Union official called it “really a power grab by the administration for the F.B.I. to secretly demand medical records, tax records, gun purchase records and all sorts of other material if they deem it relevant to an intelligence investigation.”