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PATRIOT Act Extension Fails, For Now...

February 8, 2011 - by Donny Shaw

House Republicans tried this evening to pass a bill extending three of the most controversial provisions of the USA PATRIOT Act by using an expedited procedure that allowed for just 40 minute of debate and no amendments. But the rules of the procedure also required that 2/3rds of the House vote in favor for the extension to pass. So, even though a strong majority of the House voted in favor, they were still 7 votes short and the attempt failed. The bill will, however, be brought back to the floor for another vote under standard rules, probably in the next few days, and since only a simple majority will be needed it is expected to pass then. 

Here are the Reps. who sunk the bill by voting “no”: 122 Democrats and 26 Republicans.

The ACLU describes the three provisions that would be extended under the bill (without any modifications):

  • Section 215 of the Patriot Act authorizes the government to obtain “any tangible thing” relevant to a terrorism investigation, even if there is no showing that the “thing” pertains to suspected terrorists or terrorist activities. This provision is contrary to traditional notions of search and seizure, which require the government to show reasonable suspicion or probable cause before undertaking an investigation that infringes upon a person’s privacy. Congress must ensure that things collected with this power have a meaningful nexus to suspected terrorist activity or it should be allowed to expire.
  • Section 206 of the Patriot Act, also known as “roving John Doe wiretap” provision, permits the government to obtain intelligence surveillance orders that identify neither the person nor the facility to be tapped. This provision is contrary to traditional notions of search and seizure, which require government to state with particularity what it seeks to search or seize. Section 206 should be amended to mirror similar and longstanding criminal laws that permit roving wiretaps, but require the naming of a specific target. Otherwise, it should expire.
  • Section 6001 of the Intelligence Reform and Terrorism Prevention Act of 2004, or the so-called “Lone Wolf” provision, permits secret intelligence surveillance of non-US persons who are not affiliated with a foreign organization. Such an authorization, granted only in secret courts is subject to abuse and threatens our longtime understandings of the limits of the government’s investigatory powers within the borders of the United States. This provision has never been used and should be allowed to expire outright.

The bill will no go back to the rules committee, get a new rule, and be brought up under regular order sometime soon. That probably means we’ll get a little more debate time (not that anyone takes floor debate seriously) and, if Republicans choose to live up to their campaign pledge to use more open rules, an opportunity for members who oppose the provisions in their current form to seek reforms via amendments. 

But make no mistake — today’s slip up is not going to stop this bill from becoming law in the next few weeks. Senate Democrats are already preparing to fast-track companion legislation (S. 149) by using a procedure that will allow them to skip the committee process and bring the bill straight to the floor. The Obama Administration “strongly supports” the extension and is even pushing for it to be longer, so there’s no possibility of a veto.

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