FBI chief firm in defending anti-terrorism law

Robert Mueller says Patriot Act is critical to preventing of future attacks.

FBI Director Robert Mueller on Thursday stood fast in his defense of the USA PATRIOT Act and said Congress should reauthorize and expand the 2001 anti-terrorism law.

Speaking at a breakfast, Mueller told the U.S. Chamber of Commerce that pending legislation to renew the law includes provisions to better protect civil liberties than under the current law.

The chamber opposes the pending reauthorization bill. In an October 2005 letter addressed to members of Congress, the group instead endorsed the earlier Senate-passed version because it would require the FBI to meet more stringent legal standards when demanding customer records. That version also would not have subjected businesses to criminal sanctions for talking publicly about the receipt of such demands.

The PATRIOT Act legislation would provide several opportunities for challenging subpoenas "that [businesses] do not have in the current structure," Mueller said in response to a question posed by a member of the chamber. "The PATRIOT Act is essential for us to do our job and prevents terrorism attacks on the United States in a variety of ways."

But Lisa Graves, a senior counsel for legislative strategy at the American Civil Liberties Union, said the change Mueller cited would not be a substantive concession because Americans already possess a First Amendment right to challenge such demands. The ACLU is currently challenging the administration over the issue in court.

Rolf Lundberg, a senior vice president of congressional and public affairs at the chamber, asked Mueller several questions about the status of the FBI's enforcement of international anti-counterfeiting law, the agency's technology upgrade and the awarding of a related tech contract.

Lundberg also asked about Congress' inquiry into Able Danger, a data-mining project of the Defense Department that has been scrapped but that was the subject of a congressional inquiry last year because of privacy concerns.

Mueller did not provide details on that investigation or on the technology upgrade. However, he said the FBI has been successful in pursuing a case in which a Corning official tried to sell its trade secrets to a competitor in Taiwan.

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