Some prominent business organizations are complaining to Congress that the Patriot Act makes it too easy for the government to get confidential...

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WASHINGTON — Some prominent business organizations are complaining to Congress that the Patriot Act makes it too easy for the government to get confidential business records.

These groups endorsed proposed amendments yesterday that would require investigators to say how the information they seek is linked to individual suspected terrorists or spies. The changes also would allow businesses to challenge the requests in courts and speak publicly about those requests.

This is the first organized criticism from big business of the anti-terror law that was passed after the attacks of Sept. 11, 2001. It also comes as Congress heads toward a vote on whether to extend some disputed provisions that expire at year’s end.

“Confidential files — records about our customers or our employees, as well as our trade secrets and other proprietary information — can too easily be obtained and disseminated under investigative powers expanded by the Patriot Act,” six business groups wrote the chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee, Sen. Arlen Specter, R-Pa.

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“These new powers lack sufficient checks and balances,” the letter said.

Among the signers are the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, the National Association of Manufacturers and the National Association of Realtors.

Currently the government merely has to certify it is conducting an authorized investigation without providing any facts connecting the records to actual suspects.

Susan Hackett, general counsel of the Association of Corporate Counsel, one of the signers, said it took time for business leaders to formulate a position because the law forbids companies served with orders from discussing them.

“Just after 9/11, nobody wanted to be anti-patriot, so everybody sat back to give the act some time,” Hackett added. “We are no longer in that level of emergency so now is the time to participate in the deliberations.”

Other signers were The Financial Services Roundtable and Business Civil Liberties.