The U.S. Senate intelligence committee on Tuesday sided with the White House by proposing broad new subpoena powers for the FBI to use in counterterrorism and counterintelligence investigations, officials said.
After hours of secret deliberations, the oversight panel voted 11-4 to send to the full Senate a proposal that would give the FBI the power to subpoena without judicial approval a wide range of personal documents ranging from health and library records to tax statements.
The bill would add the subpoena powers to the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act, which governs federal investigations of foreign intelligence and terrorist activities. Officials said the FBI already exercises the same subpoena powers in criminal investigations.
The legislation approved by the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence also would make permanent intelligence-related sections of the USA Patriot Act that are scheduled to expire at the end of the year.
Top administration officials including President Bush, have called for administrative subpoena power as an investigative tool to combat terrorism.
But rights activists such as the American Civil Liberties Union have warned that the new powers pose a chilling threat to the constitutional rights of individuals.
Tuesday’s vote sent the measure to the Senate floor. But the Senate Judiciary Committee, which also has oversight authority on the Patriot Act and related legislation, was expected to assume control of the measure as part of its own reauthorization proceedings.
Sen. Pat Roberts of Kansas, the intelligence committee’s chairman, issued a statement saying the legislation had been approved with “strong bipartisan support” from the seven Democrats and eight Republicans on the panel.
The committee’s ranking Democrat, Sen. John Rockefeller of West Virginia, said he supported the measure, even though he criticized the new subpoena power as overly broad.
“The use of this new subpoena power should be the exception, not the rule. Regrettably, the bill places no such restriction on the issuance of administrative subpoenas,” Rockefeller said in a statement.
Roberts and Rockefeller said the bill would provide more safeguards under a provision of the Patriot Act that allows federal authorities to subpoena business records.
Congressional officials have predicted that administrative subpoena powers would render the Patriot Act’s more narrowly defined business records provision obsolete within a year.