Senate votes to renew anti-terrorism provisions

Reuters News
Posted: May 26, 2011 7:24 PM
Senate votes to renew anti-terrorism provisions

By Thomas Ferraro

WASHINGTON (Reuters) - The Senate passed a bill on Thursday to renew three expiring provisions of the anti-terrorism Patriot Act, rejecting demands for additional safeguards of civil liberties.

The vote was 72-23. With the provisions set to expire at midnight on Thursday, the House of Representatives was expected to give swift final congressional approval to the Senate-passed bill.

Democrats and some Republicans favored more protections for law-abiding citizens. But congressional leaders, racing the clock and possibly short on votes, agreed to a four-year, unaltered extension of the provisions to track suspected terrorists.

President Barack Obama is traveling in Europe. White House spokesman Nick Shapiro said that he was prepared to use "the auto pen to sign" the bill quickly into law.

The provisions empower law enforcement officials to get court approval to obtain "roving wiretaps" on suspected foreign agents with multiple modes of communications, track noncitizen "lone wolves" suspected of terrorism, and obtain certain business records.

"Although the Patriot Act is not a perfect law, it provides our intelligence and law enforcement communities with crucial tools to keep America safe," said Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, a Democrat.

"The raid that killed Osama bin Laden also yielded an enormous amount of new information that has spurred dozens of investigations yielding new leads every day," Reid said.

"Without the Patriot Act, investigators would not have the tools they need to follow these new leads and disrupt terrorist plots," Reid said.

The provisions are key parts of the Patriot Act, which was enacted after the September 11, 2001 attacks on the United States. While backers say the provisions bolster U.S. security, critics say they could be abused and violate the rights of U.S. citizens.

Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman Patrick Leahy, a liberal Democrat, and Republican Senator Rand Paul, a favorite of the conservative Tea Party movement, together offered steps to bolster oversight of the Patriot Act and increase civil-liberty protections.

These proposed changes cleared the Judiciary Committee, but Leahy and Paul were unable to bring them up for a vote by the full Senate.

Leahy said, "The extension of the Patriot Act provisions does not include a single improvement or reform, and includes not even a word that recognizes the importance of protecting the civil liberties and constitutional privacy rights of Americans."

(Additional reporting by Jeremy Pelofsky; Editing by Will Dunham)