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Paul gets two amendment votes, but the PATRIOT Act spy powers will remain largely unaffected

May 26, 2011 - by Donny Shaw

Sen. Rand Paul [R, KY] has introduced several amendments to the PATRIOT ACT reauthorization bill that would add oversight to the government’s spying powers and rein in their abuses, but it’s his amendment to give gun owners special protections that he seems to care about most. According to reports, Majority Leader Harry Reid [D, NV] and Paul are closing in on a deal to allow a vote on the gun amendment, and another minor one on suspicious activity reports, in exchange for Paul dropping his filibuster of the bill and letting it come to a final vote. All of the amendments to reform the PATRIOT Act for all citizens, from Paul and other senators, will be left out of the deal.

Paul’s gun amendment would state in law that no portion of the PATRIOT Act can be used to access any firearms records held by licensed gun dealers. According to Gun Owners of America, who says they worked with the senator on drafting the amendment, it’s designed to keep the government from accessing 4473 forms, which are the firearm transaction records that all people who buy guns in the U.S. from a licensed dealer must fill out. Personal information on the forms include name, address, date of birth, photograph, and make/model/serial numbers of the gun that was purchased.

Under the amendment, all other “tangible things” would still be subject to bulk collection by the government under the PATRIOT Act. This includes things like library records, bank information, financial transactions, records of purchases, phone activity, etc. The amendment does nothing for the 62% of U.S. households that do not own guns. And for the 38% that do, every transaction they’ve ever made besides the ones relating to guns would still be subject to warrantless collection by the government.

The other Paul amendment that appears to be in the deal relates to suspicious activity reports. Basically, under the PATRIOT Act, financial institutions are required to submit “suspicious activity reports” to the FBI if they notice any, well, suspicious activity. Under the Paul amendment, law enforcement would have to initiate a request for a suspicious activity report. This is about shifting the reporting burden from banks and financial corporations, not really about protecting privacy.

That looks to be all that Paul, the most aggressive PATRIOT Act opponent in the Senate, will get from the deal. And it’s unclear whether either of them will even pass. Four more years…

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