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Democrats and Republicans alike rush to extend the PATRIOT Act

January 31, 2011 - by Donny Shaw

There’s not a whole lot these days that the Republican House of Representatives and the Democratic Senate are eager to work on together. But there is at least one thing. On February 28th, three controversial provisions of the USA PATRIOT Act are scheduled to expire, and in the past couple of weeks Democrats and Republicans in both chambers have introduced several bills to reauthorize and extend them.

The PATRIOT Act provisions that are set to expire include the authority for “roving” wiretaps that allows the government to monitor computers that may occasionally be used by suspected terrorists, the “tangible records provision” that requires banks, telecoms and libraries to hand over any customer information the government requests without informing the customer, and the “lone wolf” provision allowing the government to track international terrorist groups. All of the recently introduced bills would extend these provisions, and some would go further by reauthorizing expiring laws that allowing the government to wiretap calls between American citizens and foreigners without a warrant.

The bills already have the backing of the committee chairmen who will be in charge of marking it up and sending it to the full chamber for votes.

On the House side, Judiciary Chairman, Rep. Lamar Smith [R, TX-21] is co-sponsoring H.R.514 and calling it “a step toward the long-term reauthorization” of the PATRIOT Act provisions. That bill is also being co-sponsored by Intelligence Committee Chairman Rep. Mike Rogers [R, MI-8]. Rogers has also introduced his own version of the bill, H.R.67. As of this writing it’s not clear how, if at all, the two versions differ.

In the Senate, Judiciary Chairman Sen. Pat Leahy [D, VT] has introduced the USA PATRIOT Act Sunset Extension Act of 2011 to extend the expiring provisions. As Rachel Slajda at TPM notes, the bill adds some new restrictions on how the government can request personal information (i.e. “tangible records”). Under Leahy’s bill, the government will have to show the courts “a statement of facts showing reasonable grounds to believe the tangible things are relevant to an authorized investigation” in order to access private information of individuals. The ACLU calls this a step in the right direction, but not enough. They want the tangible records provision to be for terrorism suspects only, not for anyone who the government believes could provide useful information for a terrorism investigation.

Senate Intelligence Committee Chairwoman Sen. Dianne Feinstein [D, CA] has introduced her own version of the legislation. Hers adds an extension of the 2008 FISA Amendments Act, which, in addition to granting retroactive legal immunity to telecom companies that teamed up with the Bush Administration to illegally wiretap U.S. citizens, made it easier for the government to wiretap calls that involve U.S. citizens who are not suspects.

Notably, both Senate bills would extend the provisions until 2013 while both House bills would extend them only until next February. Apparently Republicans think having this reauthorization debate again in 2012 is good for them electrically. Democrats, not so much. Regardless of the political considerations, though, it’s pretty clear that the powers that be, in both parties, want the PATRIOT Act extended. There aren’t too many other issues that you’re likely to see this level of quick, co-ordinated and top-down bipartisan action on.

The signing ceremony for the original PATRIOT Act is pictured above. As you can see, it has always been bipartisan. That’s Majority Leader Sen. Harry Reid [D, NV] with the huge grin.

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  • ssari30 01/31/2011 1:54pm

    Are you serious?? How about rushing to extend an unemployment extension for the 99ers!

  • Comm_reply
    nmeagent 02/01/2011 9:27pm

    How about we do neither and call it a day?

  • Comm_reply
    nmeagent 02/01/2011 9:29pm

    And yes, I’m serious. Let the Patriot Act expire while also letting unemployment benefits eventually expire (rather than continuing indefinitely as I believe many who lurk here wish).

  • outrageddem 01/31/2011 5:24pm

    It’s amazing that “roving” wiretaps are still included in the Patriot Act. Hopefully, Sen. Leahy will be able to convince the majority that this is so wrong in so many ways. The Tea-Party (T-P)& GOP mindset has been that President Obama is a Marxist, communist, even Hitler, yet this unwarranted wiretaping is a defining start for just that and it was in George W Bush’s reign that it was started (at least, reported) & all the telecommunication companies that were involved were granted legal immunity. Whistle blowers have shown that, not only, anyone & everyone is being monitored but the monitors are “sharing” some very personal information that has absolutely nothing to do with terrorism. WAKE UP, AMERICA!!! To both the House & Senate, I say to you:

  • Spam Comment

  • hondapcgirl 02/01/2011 7:52am

    I am part of the Tea Party and I have brought this up with our group at our last meeting. Today I am contacting each of my representatives in the House & Senate to vote against the extension. I think that if those outside of the tea party would actually listen to what where saying, they would find that we agree on a number of issues. Not all, of course, but many.

  • keenen 02/01/2011 8:14am

    This is a law that, unlike the Affordable Care Act, people don’t really know what is in it. Republicans (tea-partiers) know what is in the new health law and have redefined things like “end of life counciling” with “death panels”. The PATRIOT Act does away with warrants. Warrants are an important part of democracy because it is part of America’s system of checks and balances. That’s right “government red tape”. The judicial branch is a check on the power of the executive branch and warrants allow the actions of the executive branch to be reviewed not inhibited. The PATRIOT Act replaced the FISA law which allowed spontaneous searches and wiretaps as long as a warrant was filed by officers within 72 hours after the search. The PATRIOT Act didn’t untie the hands of law enforcement. There hands were never tied!

  • usabornfree57 02/02/2011 12:25pm

    Absurd law invading the privacy of individual Americans without warranted cause ordered by a judge.

  • SmilingAhab 02/02/2011 2:51pm

    Sen. Reid’s grin really freaks me out :(

    Also, I posted several pro-Egypt things all over the internet and donate regularly to the ACLU, AFL-CIO and am pro civil liberty all over the place, so I’d bet money I’m being tracked in the lone wolf database. I’d love to see what that massive database out in the midwest the NSA had built has on each and every one of us.

    If Bernie Sanders and Ron Paul can work together to stop the Fed from buying America, then we can work together to restore our civil liberties!

  • yoder 02/05/2011 6:00am

    Restoring our civil liberties cannot happen until 2 things happen. 1). People in general actually recognize that their civil liberties have been taken away. 2). People in general actually care that their civil liberties have been taken away.

    So far, neither has happened.

  • Comm_reply
    nmeagent 03/07/2011 6:57pm

    Unfortunately, (1) and (2) will never happen for a large segment of the population as long as their favorite sporting events are aired on television.

  • CANDY2011 02/11/2011 3:00pm

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