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U.S. Senate, House pass bills to extend patriot act.

The U.S. Senate and House of Representatives in July voted to extend 14 of the 16 provisions of the USA PATRIOT Act that were set to expire December 31. The House and Senate bills are different, but the differences are small enough that officials said they could work out a compromise.

According to The New York Times, the Senate voted unanimously to make permanent 14 of the main provisions after Republican leaders agreed to include additional civil rights safeguards and to prevent the government from expanding its counterterrorism powers. Two remaining sections--206 and 215--will expire in four years unless Congress reauthorizes them.

The roving wiretap provision, Section 206, allows investigators to conduct secret searches and obtain warrants to intercept a phone conversations or Internet traffic without limiting it to a specific phone or identifying the suspect. The records provision, Section 215, authorizes federal officials to obtain "tangible items" such as business, library, and medical records.

The legislation also restricts the government's powers, requiring a higher standard of proof for investigators to demand business records, greater judicial oversight, and increased reporting to Congress on antiterrorism operations and limits on roving wiretaps.

The Bush administration had pressed for expanded subpoena powers. But, according to the Times, after several days of private discussions, Senate leaders agreed not to pursue the administrative subpoenas to ensure quick reauthorization of the Patriot Act in some form.

The House voted to make the same 14 provisions permanent but put a 10-year sunset on sections 206 and 215. In the House, Democrats and some Republicans had pushed for new restrictions on those sections of the act.

Advocates of the act argued that such powers already exist in criminal investigations. They also cited safeguards in the bill, such as a requirement that a judge approve the records search.

According to media reports, House Democrats became incensed after Republican leaders blocked consideration of an amendment that would have prohibited the library searches. The House approved identical language by a wide margin in June as an amendment to an appropriations bill, but the rules committee did not allow it to be considered during the July debate.

While the House did not agree to restrictions on those provisions, lawmakers did approve nearly all of 20 amendments offered as part of the Patriot Act proposal.

Among them, the Times reported, is one requiring the FBI director to personally approve demands for library and business records and another placing more limits on the bureau's use of national security letters to demand records without a judge's consent. Under the amendment, anyone receiving such a letter could consult with a lawyer and seek to have a judge throw out the demand if compliance is deemed "unnecessary or oppressive."

Another successful amendment sets a 20-year jail term for an attack against a rail or mass-transit vehicle; a 30-year sentence if the vehicle carries nuclear material; and life imprisonment--with the possibility of the death penalty if anyone is killed in such an attack.

The Patriot Act has been criticized since it was passed in the weeks after the September 11, 2001, attacks, with more than 300 communities voicing formal concerns about what they say is its chilling effect on civil liberties. However, advocates defend the law as the nation's most valuable anti-terrorism tool for averting additional attacks on U.S. soil.

In other Patriot Act news, a judge in Los Angeles has ruled that portions of the law regarding the definition of "material support" to terrorism were too vague and, thus, unconstitutional. According to the Times, Congress tried to fix the problem by amending the language as part of last year's intelligence reform bill after the same district judge, Audrey Collins, ruled twice that the wording raised constitutional problems. Judge Collins said in her latest ruling that the changes adequately clarified what constituted providing "personnel" to banned terrorist groups, but that the wording on providing "training" and other support was still "impermissibly vague."
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Title Annotation:UP FRONT: News, Trends & Analysis; Uniting and Strengthening America by Providing Appropriate Tools Required to Intercept and Obstruct Terrorism Act; United States. Congress. Senate; United States. Congress. House
Author:Swartz, Nikki
Publication:Information Management Journal
Geographic Code:1USA
Date:Sep 1, 2005
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