The US House of Representatives voted Monday to extend controversial provisions of the USA PATRIOT Act.
By a vote of 275 to 144, the House passed a 10-month extension of three USA PATRIOT Act surveillance powers that were set to expire at the end of February.
An earlier vote failed when it did not obtain a two thirds majority.
The legislation, introduced by Rep. James Sensenbrenner (R-WI), extends the roving wiretap provision, the “lone wolf” measure and the “library records” provision. The provisions allow authorities to conduct surveillance without identifying the person or location to be wiretapped, permits surveillance of “non-US” persons who are not affiliated with a terrorist group, and lets the government gain access to “any tangible thing” during investigations, respectively.
“I cannot support this extension when the House has done nothing to consider these provisions, or possible reforms, or even to hold a hearing or a markup,” Rep. Jerrold Nadler (D-NY) said on the House floor Monday. “While in the past, Members have had the opportunity to receive classified briefings, we have dozens of new Members who have received no such briefings.”
When the act was first signed into law, Congress put in some “sunset” provisions to quiet the concerns of civil libertarians, but they were ignored by successive extensions. Unfortunately, those concerns proved to be well founded, and a 2008 Justice Department report confirmed that the FBI regularly abused their ability to obtain personal records of Americans without a warrant.
The only real sign of strong opposition to the act was in 2005, when a Democratic threat to filibuster its first renewal was overcome by Senate Republicans.
The bill, known as HR 514, will now head to the Senate, which already has three bills of its own pending.
Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman Patrick Leahy (D-VT) introduced legislation to the Senate in January that would extend expiring provisions of the PATRIOT Act while increasing judicial oversight of government surveillance powers. Another bill, introduced by Senator Dianne Feinstein (D-CA), would extend the provisions for three more years. The third bill, introduced by Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY), would make the three provisions permanent.
“It has been nearly a decade since the Patriot Act was passed and our lawmakers still refuse to make any meaningful changes to this reactionary law,” ACLU Legislative Counsel Michelle Richardson said in a statement. “The right to privacy from government is a cornerstone of our country’s foundation and Americans must be free from the kind of unwarranted government surveillance that the Patriot Act allows. If Congress cannot take the time to insert the much needed privacy safeguards the Patriot Act needs, it should allow these provisions to expire.”
Of the 144 votes against the House bill, 26 came from Republicans. Sixty-five Democrats voted for it.
“I believe the American people have a legitimate fear of out-of-control government,” California Republican Dana Rohrabacher said. “And yes, they have a legitimate fear of out-of-control prosecutors and out-of-control spy networks.”
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