WASHINGTON (AFP) – The US Senate voted to open a debate on a proposed four-year extension of the Patriot Act, a controversial anti-terrorism law passed after the September 11 attacks.
Key provisions of the law, which gave the government sweeping authority to conduct anti-terrorism investigations over the protests of civil libertarians, are due to expire on Friday.
The Senate voted 74-8 to open debate. A final vote is expected later this week.
In recent months, Congress has debated whether to extend the act temporarily, longer-term or permanently. In February, Congress approved a three-month extension to allow time for negotiations.
In play are provisions allowing authorities to use roving wiretaps to track an individual on several telephones; track a non-US national suspected of being a “lone-wolf” terrorist not tied to an extremist group; and to seize personal or business records or “any tangible thing” seen as critical to an investigation.
While the White House backs extending those powers, the law has drawn fire from an unusual coalition of liberal Democrats and Republicans tied to the archconservative “Tea Party” movement who say it goes too far.
In a statement released before the vote, the White House confirmed its strong support for an extension through 2015, arguing that the provisions are “crucial” for the intelligence and law enforcement communities.
The US House of Representatives must also vote later this week, before it goes to President Barack Obama for his signature.