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PATRIOT Act Extension Get Bipartisan Love in Senate

May 24, 2011 - by Donny Shaw

If you want to break the partisan divide and get Democrats and Republicans in Congress to agree on something, just give them a bill that makes it easier for the government to spy on U.S. citizens without judicial oversight. Yesterday, the Senate voted 74-8, with 18 senators abstaining, in favor of moving forward with legislation to extend three of the most controversial PATRIOT Act surveillance powers for four more years, without any modifications. By contrast, the Senate has had to pull a small business jobs bill and two of Obama’s judicial nominees from the floor after the Republicans mounted successful filibusters.

The Senate will now spend the rest of the afternoon today debating the PATRIOT Act before voting tomorrow on passing the extension and sending it to the House for follow-up action. They’ll vote on a Sen. Patrick Leahy [D, VT]/Sen. Rand Paul [R, KY] amendment to end the use of national security letters for a basis of information gathering and add a few oversight provisions, but whether or not that passes, the PATRIOT Act provisions will be extended. They 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 being allows to inform the customer, and the “lone wolf” provision allowing the government to track terrorists acting independently of any foreign power or organization.

And so by the end of the week, these expansions of government surveillance powers that were hastily put in place following the shock of the 9/11 attacks will be extended once again. Why? Well, because, in the words of Intelligence Committee Chairwoman Sen. Dianne Feinstein [D, CA] on the Senate floor yesterday, “this is a time of heightened threat.” “Maybe no specific threat,” she added. “But certainly heightened threats.”

Be afraid and stop asking questions. But don’t worry — in four years the Senate will debate this for one day again before passing the next extension.

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