On Thursday, top Congressional leadership agreed to extend the three expiring provisions of the PATRIOT Act for four more years. Congress voted on a three-month extension of the provisions last February, and Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid and House Speaker John Boehner have agreed to push a vote before the current expiration date of May 27, 2011. Much of the PATRIOT Act is already permanent, but the three surveillance provisions in question license intelligence officials to conduct roving wiretaps; access personal business records for evidence; and survey “lone-wolf” operators, non-U.S. citizens not connected to organized groups but acting alone to commit acts of terrorism.
The Hill reports that there have been several proposed variations on legislation, and that some House Republicans have proposed a bill that would make the lone-wolf provision permanent and extend the first two provisions until 2017. However, it looks like Harry Reid’s bill, which would extend all three provisions until 2014, will be the one to go through.
The PATRIOT Act allows counterterrorism investigators the same available tools as those in criminal investigations, ensuring intelligence officials can track down leads and prevent terrorist attacks. U.S. intelligence has discovered and thwarted at least 39 domestic terrorist plots since 9/11, and even though Osama bin Laden is dead, we should not expect terrorists’ efforts to diminish.
While the PATRIOT Act has been one of the more roundly controversial laws of the past decade, it provides for the common defense, it does not give the government unlimited power to survey innocent Americans, and it has never been judged unconstitutional. Even Attorney General Eric Holder believes that “now, more than ever, we need access to the crucial authorities in the PATRIOT Act.” Ron Paul will not be pleased.