Monday, May 23, 2011
Senate Approves Procedural Motion to Extend Patriot Act Provisions
(NewsCore) - WASHINGTON -- The US Senate voted Monday to overcome a key procedural hurdle on legislation renewing three provisions in the Patriot Act -- legislation that continues expanded authorities first granted to federal law enforcement in the wake of the 9/11 terrorist attacks.
In doing so, Congress begins a week in which lawmakers' focus will be firmly on military and intelligence matters. Having now overcome the procedural obstacle, senators are expected to pass the extensions of the Patriot Act measures, and the House is slated to take up the legislation once the Senate approves it.
The Patriot Act extensions were agreed to by House and Senate leaders last week in a deal that, once approved by Congress, will continue the measures until June 2015.
The first will continue to enable law enforcement officials to seek roving wiretaps to enable them to conduct surveillance of suspected terrorists that change their communications devices.
They will also be able to conduct surveillance of foreign individuals suspected of terrorism activities who are not known to be affiliated to existing terrorist groups.
A third provision would enable law enforcement to access suspects' private business records, including credit card bills and hotel and car rental records.
In each case, law enforcement officials must be granted approval of the specially constituted court known as the FISA court, which meets in secret proceedings to hear such applications. The court is named after the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act, under whose authority it was initially constituted.
While the bill easily moved along the legislative process by a 74-8 vote, it was opposed by lawmakers from both ends of the political spectrum who were uneasy about the federal government retaining the expanded authorities.
Sen. Rand Paul (R-Ky.) said that in voting against the measure, he did not want to live in a country that violated his privacy rights.
The other lawmakers who opposed allowing the measure to proceed were Democratic Sens. Mark Begich of Alaska, Max Baucus of Montana, Jeff Merkley of Oregon, Jon Tester of Montana and independent Sen. Bernie Sanders of Vermont. Two other Republican senators, Dean Heller of Nevada and Lisa Murkowski of Alaska, joined Paul in opposing the measure.
In the House, there could be several more lawmakers who oppose the legislation, but Congress is expected to finalize it before the provisions expire at the end of the week. It would then have to be flown to Europe to catch up with President Barack Obama, who is on a several days tour.
The White House issued a statement Monday in which it said it "strongly supported" passage of the legislation.