Senate votes for short-term extension of PATRIOT Act provisions
The US Senate voted Tuesday to extend three controversial provisions of the USA PATRIOT Act until May 27.
The vote came a day after the House passed a 10-month extension of the same USA PATRIOT Act provisions that were set to expire at the end of February.
The Senate passed the extension by a 86 to 12 vote.
The House and Senate bills both extend the roving wiretap provision, the “lone wolf” measure and the “library records” provision. The three 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.
The Senate had been considering three different bills to extend the provisions, but members of the Senate agreed to pass a short-term extension to give Congress more time to debate the bills. The Congress will be in recess next week, leaving Senators little time to debate the legislation.
The three provisions have been criticized by both liberals and conservatives. Before the vote Tuesday, Sen. Rand Paul (R-KY) warned that extending them could turn America into a “police state.”
Senator Dianne Feinstein (D-CA) has introduced legislation that would extend the provisions for three more years. Another bill introduced by Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman Patrick Leahy (D-VT) would extend the expiring provisions through 2013 while also increasing judicial oversight of government surveillance powers. The third bill, introduced by Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY), would make the three provisions permanent.
“I support strengthening oversight while providing the intelligence community the certainty it needs to protect national security,” Sen Leahy said. “The bill I hope we will consider before May 27 would give the intelligence community the certainty it needs by extending these expiring authorities while also strengthening congressional and judicial oversight.”
“The House bill we are amending was not the product of bipartisan agreement, or even an open debate in the House,” he added. “It would extend the PATRIOT Act without improvement for the rest of the year. That is too little for too long.”
Michelle Richardson, American Civil Liberties Union legislative counsel, said that while Sen. Leahy’s bill adds some important oversight to the PATRIOT Act, “it unfortunately allows many dangerous provisions to continue.”
“Since its passage nearly a decade ago, the Patriot Act has been used improperly again and again by law enforcement to invade Americans’ privacy and violate their constitutional rights,” he continued. “Rather than allow these provisions to be rubberstamped in February, Congress should seize this opportunity to make reforming the Patriot Act a priority.”
Sens. Max Baucus (D-MT), Mike Lee (R-UT), Rand Paul (R-KY), Jon Tester (D-MT), Sherrod Brown (D-OH), Tom Harkin (D-IA), Tom Udall (D-NM), Jeff Merkley (D-OR), Ron Wyden (D-OR), Frank Lautenberg (D-NJ), Patty Murray (D-WA), and Bernie Sanders (I-VT) voted against the three month extension. Sens. John Kerry (D-MA) and Mark Pryor (D-AR) did not vote.